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The Most Catholic Quotes of the Early Church Fathers on Correct Scriptural Interpretation & Authority

Posted by Tony Listi on November 13, 2013

The early Church fathers rebuked many misinterpretations of Scripture and saw Church/episcopal/conciliar authority, apostolic succession, and Holy Apostolic Tradition to be essential in interpreting Scripture correctly and determining correct doctrine.

Irenaeus (130-202)

“Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behooves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech. For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things; and they increase that love [which we have] for the Son of God, who accomplished such marvellous dispensations for our sake: and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.” (Against Heresies, 4, 26, 2, 5; Ch. 26 is entitled “THE TRUE EXPOSITION OF THE SCRIPTURES IS TO BE FOUND IN THE CHURCH ALONE“)

“And then shall every word also seem consistent to him, if he for his part diligently read the Scriptures in company with those who are presbyters in the Church, among whom is the apostolic doctrine, as I have pointed out.” (Against Heresies, 4, 32, 1)

“Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?” (Against Heresies 3,4, 1)

“These things, too, were preached to the Gentiles by word, without [the aid of] the Scriptures: wherefore, also, they who preached among the Gentiles underwent greater labour. But, on the other hand, the faith of the Gentiles is proved to be of a more noble description, since they followed the word of God without the instruction [derived] from the [sacred] writings (sine instructione literarum).” (Against Heresies, 4, 24, 2)

“[W]e refute them out of these Scriptures, and shut them up to a belief in the advent of the Son of God. But our faith is steadfast, unfeigned, and the only true one, having clear proof from these Scriptures, which were interpreted in the way I have related; and the preaching of the Church is without interpolation. For the apostles, since they are of more ancient date than all these [heretics], agree with this aforesaid translation; and the translation harmonizes with the tradition of the apostles. For Peter, and John, and Matthew, and Paul, and the rest successively, as well as their followers, did set forth all prophetical [announcements], just as the interpretation of the elders contains them.” (Against Heresies, 3, 21, 3)

True knowledge is [that which consists in] the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy….” (Against Heresies, 4, 33, 8; Chapter 33 is entitled “WHOSOEVER…DILIGENTLY READS THE SCRIPTURES IN COMPANY WITH THE PRESBYTERS OF THE CHURCH, IS A TRUE SPIRITUAL DISCIPLE; AND HE WILL RIGHTLY UNDERSTAND AND INTERPRET ALL THAT THE PROPHETS HAVE DECLARED RESPECTING CHRIST AND THE LIBERTY OF THE NEW TESTAMENT”)

“When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and [assert] that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For [they allege] that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce…. But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches, they object to tradition, saying that they themselves are wiser not merely than the presbyters, but even than the apostles, because they have discovered the unadulterated truth…. It comes to this, therefore, that these men [heretics] do now consent neither to Scripture or tradition” (Against Heresies 3, 2, 1-2)

Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-c. 215)

“Now all men, having the same judgment, some, following the Word speaking, frame for themselves proofs; while others, giving themselves up to pleasures, wrest Scripture, in accordance with their lusts…. But such people, in consequence of falling away from the right path, err in most individual points; as you might expect from not having the faculty for judging of what is true and false, strictly trained to select what is essential. For if they had, they would have obeyed the Scriptures. As, then, if a man should, similarly to those drugged by Circe, become a beast; so he, who has spurned the ecclesiastical tradition, and darted off to the opinions of heretical men, has ceased to be a man of God and to remain faithful to the Lord. But he who has returned from this deception, on hearing the Scriptures, and turned his life to the truth, is, as it were, from being a man made a god…. And if those also who follow heresies venture to avail themselves of the prophetic Scriptures; in the first place they will not make use of all the Scriptures, and then they will not quote them entire, nor as the body and texture of prophecy prescribe. But, selecting ambiguous expressions, they wrest them to their own opinions, gathering a few expressions here and there; not looking to the sense, but making use of the mere words. For in almost all the quotations they make, you will find that they attend to the names alone, while they alter the meanings; neither knowing, as they affirm, nor using the quotations they adduce, according to their true nature…. For, in consequence of not learning the mysteries of ecclesiastical knowledge, and not having capacity for the grandeur of the truth, too indolent to descend to the bottom of things, reading superficially, they have dismissed the Scriptures…. [S]o also we call those heretics empty, who are destitute of the counsels of God and the traditions of Christ…. For those are slothful who, having it in their power to provide themselves with proper proofs for the divine Scriptures from the Scriptures themselves, select only what contributes to their own pleasures. And those have a craving for glory who voluntarily evade, by arguments of a diverse sort, the things delivered by the blessed apostles and teachers, which are wedded to inspired words; opposing the divine tradition by human teachings, in order to establish the heresy. For, in truth, what remained to be said— in ecclesiastical knowledge I mean— by such men, Marcion, for example, or Prodicus, and such like, who did not walk in the right way? For they could not have surpassed their predecessors in wisdom, so as to discover anything in addition to what had been uttered by them; for they would have been satisfied had they been able to learn the things laid down before. Our Gnostic [sincere seeker of truth and knowledge] then alone, having grown old in the Scriptures, and maintaining apostolic and ecclesiastic orthodoxy in doctrines, lives most correctly in accordance with the Gospel, and discovers the proofs, for which he may have made search (sent forth as he is by the Lord), from the law and the prophets. For the life of the Gnostic, in my view, is nothing but deeds and words corresponding to the tradition of the Lord.” (Stromata, Bk 7, Ch. 16)

“The liars, then, in reality are not those who for the sake of the scheme of salvation conform, nor those who err in minute points, but those who are wrong in essentials, and reject the Lord, and as far as in them lies deprive the Lord of the true teaching; who do not quote or deliver the Scriptures in a manner worthy of God and of the Lord; for the deposit rendered to God, according to the teaching of the Lord by His apostles, is the understanding and the practice of the godly tradition.” (The Stromata, Book VI, Chapter XV: “Different Degrees of Knowledge”; cf. ANF II, 509)

Tertullian (c. 160-c. 225)

Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. But even if a discussion from the Scriptures should not turn out in such a way as to place both sides on a par, (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: ‘With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians?’ For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions…. [A]ll doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches— those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God…. But if there be any (heresies) which are bold enough to plant themselves in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs ] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,— a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed.” (The Prescription Against Heretics, chapters 19, 21, 32; ANF, Vol. III)

“Since this is the case, in order that the truth may be adjudged to belong to us, ‘as many as walk according to the rule,’ which the church has handed down from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, and Christ from God, the reason of our position is clear, when it determines that heretics ought not to be allowed to challenge an appeal to the Scriptures, since we, without the Scriptures, prove that they have nothing to do with the Scriptures. For as they are heretics, they cannot be true Christians, because it is not from Christ that they get that which they pursue of their own mere choice, and from the pursuit incur and admit the name of heretics. Thus, not being Christians, they have acquired no right to the Christian Scriptures; and it may be very fairly said to them, ‘Who are you? When and whence did you come? As you are none of mine, what have you to do with that which is mine?'” (The Prescription Against Heretics, chapters 37; ANF, Vol. III)

Origen (c. 185-c. 254)

“Now the cause, in all the points previously enumerated, of the false opinions, and of the impious statements or ignorant assertions about God, appears to be nothing else than the not understanding the Scripture according to its spiritual meaning, but the interpretation of it agreeably to the mere letter. And therefore, to those who believe that the sacred books are not the compositions of men, but that they were composed by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, agreeably to the will of the Father of all things through Jesus Christ, and that they have come down to us, we must point out the ways (of interpreting them) which appear (correct) to us, who cling to the standard of the heavenly Church of Jesus Christ according to the succession of the apostles.” (First Principles, 4,1:9)

“When heretics show us the canonical Scriptures, in which every Christian believes and trusts, they seem to be saying: ‘Lo, he is in the inner rooms [the word of truth]’ (Matt 24.6). But we must not believe them, nor leave the original tradition of the Church, nor believe otherwise than we have been taught by the succession in the Church of God.” (Homilies on Matthew, Homily 46, PG 13:1667)

 Lactantius (c. 240-c. 320)

“[T]hey were perverted from the right path, and corrupted the sacred writings, so that they composed for themselves a new doctrine without any root and stability. But some, enticed by the prediction of false prophets, concerning whom both the true prophets and he himself had foretold, fell away from the knowledge of God, and left the true tradition.” (The Divine Institutes, Book IV, Chapter 30; ANF, Vol. VII)

Hilary of Poitiers (c. 315-368)

“For there is brought forward against us the declaration of Wisdom concerning itself, when it taught that it was created in these words: ‘The Lord created Me for the beginning of His ways’ (Prov 8:22). And, O wretched heretic! You turn the weapons granted to the Church against the Synagogue, against belief in the Church’s preaching, and distort against the common salvation of all the sure meaning of a saving doctrine. For you maintain by these words that Christ is a creature….” (On the Trinity, 12:36)

Athanasius (c. 297-373)

“But, beyond these sayings [of Scripture], let us look at the very tradition, teaching, and faith of the Catholic Church from the beginning, which the Lord gave, the Apostles preached and the Fathers kept.” (To Serapion 1:28; after citing biblical passages concerning the deity of the Holy Spirit)

“But after him and with him are all inventors of unlawful heresies, who indeed refer to the Scriptures, but do not hold such opinions as the saints have handed down, and receiving them as the traditions of men, err, because they do not rightly know them nor their power.” (Festal Letter 2:6)

“But since they allege the divine oracles [Scripture] and force on them a misinterpretation, according to their private sense, it becomes necessary to meet them just so far as to vindicate these passages, and to show that they bear an orthodox sense, and that our opponents are in error…. This then I consider the sense of this passage, and that, a very ecclesiastical sense.” (Discourse Against the Arians 1:37, 44)

“Now what has been briefly said above may suffice to show their misunderstanding of the passages they then alleged; and that of what they now allege from the Gospels they certainly give an unsound interpretation, we may easily see, if we now consider the scope of that faith which we Christians hold, and using it as a rule, apply ourselves, as the Apostle teaches, to the reading of inspired Scripture. For Christ’s enemies, being ignorant of this scope, have wandered from the way of truth, and have stumbled (Romans 9:32) on a stone of stumbling, thinking otherwise than they should think…. Had Christ’s enemies thus dwelt on these thoughts, and recognized the ecclesiastical scope as an anchor for the faith, they would not have made shipwreck of the faith, nor been so shameless as to resist those who would fain recover them from their fall, and to deem those as enemies who are admonishing them to be religious.” (Discourse Against the Arians 3:28, 58)

[H]old fast, every one, the faith we have received from the Fathers, which they who assembled at Nicæa recorded in writing, and endure not those who endeavor to innovate thereon. And however they may write phrases out of the Scripture, endure not their writings; however they may speak the language of the orthodox, yet attend not to what they say; for they speak not with an upright mind, but putting on such language like sheeps’ clothing, in their hearts they think with Arius, after the manner of the devil, who is the author of all heresies. For he too made use of the words of Scripture, but was put to silence by our Savior. For if he had indeed meant them as he used them, he would not have fallen from heaven; but now having fallen through his pride, he artfully dissembles in his speech, and oftentimes maliciously endeavours to lead men astray by the subtleties and sophistries of the Gentiles. Had these expositions of theirs proceeded from the orthodox, from such as the great Confessor Hosius, and Maximinus of Gaul, or his successor , or from such as Philogonius and Eustathius , Bishops of the East , or Julius and Liberius of Rome, or Cyriacus of Mœsia , or Pistus and Aristæus of Greece, or Silvester and Protogenes of Dacia, or Leontius and Eupsychius of Cappadocia, or Cæcilianus of Africa, or Eustorgius of Italy, or Capito of Sicily, or Macarius of Jerusalem, or Alexander of Constantinople, or Pæderos of Heraclea, or those great Bishops Meletius, Basil, and Longianus, and the rest from Armenia and Pontus, or Lupus and Amphion from Cilicia, or James and the rest from Mesopotamia, or our own blessed Alexander, with others of the same opinions as these—there would then have been nothing to suspect in their statements….” (Circular to Bishops of Egypt and Libya 8; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)

“I thought that all vain talk of all heretics, many as they may be, had been stopped by the Synod which was held at Nicæa. For the Faith there confessed by the Fathers according to the divine Scriptures is enough by itself at once to overthrow all impiety, and to establish the religious belief in Christ. For this reason at the present time, at the assembling of diverse synods, both in Gaul and Spain, and great Rome , all who came together, as though moved by one spirit, unanimously anathematised those who still were secretly holding with Arius, namely Auxentius of Milan, Ursacius, Valens, and Gaius of Pannonia. And they wrote everywhere, that, whereas the above-said were devising the names of synods to cite on their side, no synod should be cited in the Catholic Church save only that which was held at Nicæa, which was a monument of victory over all heresy, but especially the Arian, which was the main reason of the synod assembling when it did. How then, after all this, are some attempting to raise doubts or questions?… It is enough merely to answer such things as follows: we are content with the fact that this is not the teaching of the Catholic Church, nor did the fathers hold this. But lest the ‘inventors of evil things’ (Romans 1:30) make entire silence on our part a pretext for shamelessness, it will be well to mention a few points from Holy Scripture, in case they may even thus be put to shame, and cease from these foul devices…. Now from the divine Scriptures we discover nothing of the kind. For they say that God came in a human body. But the fathers who also assembled at Nicæa say that, not the body, but the Son Himself is co-essential with the Father, and that while He is of the Essence of the Father, the body, as they admitted according to the Scriptures, is of Mary. Either then deny the Synod of Nicæa, and as heretics bring in your doctrine from the side; or, if you wish to be children of the fathers, do not hold the contrary of what they wrote.” (Letter LIX to Epictetus, 1, 3; NPNF 2, Vol. IV)

Ephraem (c. 306-373)

All the heretics acknowledge that there is a true Scripture. Had they all falsely believed that none existed, some one might reply that such Scripture was unknown to them. But now that have themselves taken away the force of such plea, from the fact that they have mutilated the very Scriptures. For they have corrupted the sacred copies; and words which ought to have but one interpretation, they have wrested to strange significations. Whilst, when one of them attempts this, and cuts off a member of his own body, the rest demand and claim back the severed limb…. It is the church which perfect truth perfects. The church of believers is great, and its bosom most ample; it embraces the fulness (or, the whole) of the two Testaments.” (Hymns Against Heresies)

Basil the Great (c. 330-379)

“The one aim of the whole band of opponents and enemies of ‘sound doctrine’ (1 Timothy 1:10) is to shake down the foundation of the faith of Christ by levelling apostolic tradition with the ground, and utterly destroying it. So like the debtors,— of course bona fide debtors— they clamor for written proof, and reject as worthless the unwritten tradition of the Fathers. But we will not slacken in our defence of the truth. We will not cowardly abandon the cause. The Lord has delivered to us as a necessary and saving doctrine that the Holy Spirit is to be ranked with the Father. Our opponents think differently, and see fit to divide and rend asunder, and relegate Him to the nature of a ministering spirit. Is it not then indisputable that they make their own blasphemy more authoritative than the law prescribed by the Lord? Come, then, set aside mere contention.” (The Holy Spirit, 10:25; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

Time will fail me if I attempt to recount the unwritten mysteries of the Church. Of the rest I say nothing; but of the very confession of our faith in Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, what is the written source? If it be granted that, as we are baptized, so also under the obligation to believe, we make our confession in like terms as our baptism, in accordance with the tradition of our baptism and in conformity with the principles of true religion, let our opponents grant us too the right to be as consistent in our ascription of glory as in our confession of faith. If they deprecate our doxology on the ground that it lacks written authority, let them give us the written evidence for the confession of our faith and the other matters which we have enumerated. While the unwritten traditions are so many, and their bearing on ‘the mystery of godliness’ (1 Timothy 3:16) is so importantcan they refuse to allow us a single word which has come down to us from the Fathers;— which we found, derived from untutored custom, abiding in unperverted churches;— a word for which the arguments are strong, and which contributes in no small degree to the completeness of the force of the mystery?” (The Holy Spirit, 27:67; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“In answer to the objection that the doxology in the form ‘with the Spirit’ has no written authority, we maintain that if there is no other instance of that which is unwritten, then this must not be received. But if the greater number of our mysteries are admitted into our constitution without written authority, then, in company with the many others, let us receive this one. For I hold it apostolic to abide also by the unwritten traditions. ‘I praise you,’ it is said, ‘that you remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances as I delivered them to you’ (1 Corinthians 11:2); and ‘Hold fast the traditions which you have been taught whether by word, or our Epistle’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15). One of these traditions is the practice which is now before us, which they who ordained from the beginning, rooted firmly in the churches, delivering it to their successors, and its use through long custom advances pace by pace with time.” (The Holy Spirit, 27:71; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“Of the beliefs and practices whether generally accepted or publicly enjoined which are preserved in the Church some we possess derived from written teaching; others we have received delivered to us “in a mystery” by the tradition of the apostles; and both of these in relation to true religion have the same force. And these no one will gainsay—no one, at all events, who is even moderately versed in the institutions of the Church. For were we to attempt to reject such customs as have no written authority, on the ground that the importance they possess is small, we should unintentionally injure the Gospel in its very vitals; or, rather, should make our public definition a mere phrase and nothing more..” (The Holy Spirit 27:66)

“[T]here has appeared among you yet another innovation, throwing the brotherhood into great dejection, because, as you have informed me, certain persons are uttering, in the hearing of the faithful, novel and unfamiliar doctrines which they allege to be deduced from the teaching of Scripture…. But who has the hardihood now once again to renew by the help of sophistical arguments and, of course, by scriptural evidence, that old dogma of Valentinus, now long ago silenced?… These, brethren, are the mysteries of the Church; these are the traditions of the Fathers. Every man who fears the Lord, and is awaiting God’s judgment, I charge not to be carried away by various doctrines. If any one teaches a different doctrine, and refuses to accede to the sound words of the faith, rejecting the oracles of the Spirit, and making his own teaching of more authority than the lessons of the Gospels, of such an one beware.” (Letter 261; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“But we do not rest only on the fact that such is the tradition of the Fathers; for they too followed the sense of Scripture, and started from the evidence which, a few sentences back, I deduced from Scripture and laid before you.” (The Holy Spirit, 9:22; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“Let us now investigate what are our common conceptions concerning the Spirit, as well those which have been gathered by us from Holy Scripture concerning It as those which we have received from the unwritten tradition of the Fathers.” (The Holy Spirit, 9:22; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

Let no one be misled by the fact of the apostle’s frequently omitting the name of the Father and of the Holy Spirit when making mention of baptism, or on this account imagine that the invocation of the names is not observed. ‘As many of you,’ he says, ‘as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ;’ and again, ‘As many of you as were baptized into Christ were baptized into his death.’ For the naming of Christ is the confession of the whole, showing forth as it does the God who gave, the Son who received, and the Spirit who is, the unction. So we have learned from Peter, in the Acts, of ‘Jesus of Nazareth whom God anointed with the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 10:38); and in Isaiah, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me’ (Isaiah 60:1) and the Psalmist, ‘Therefore God, even your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your fellows.’ Scripture, however, in the case of baptism, sometimes plainly mentions the Spirit alone. ‘For into one Spirit,’ it says, ‘we were all baptized in one body.’ And in harmony with this are the passages: ‘You shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost’ (Acts 1:5) and ‘He shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost’ (Luke 3:16). But no one on this account would be justified in calling that baptism a perfect baptism wherein only the name of the Spirit was invoked. For the tradition that has been given us by the quickening grace must remain for ever inviolate.” (The Holy Spirit, 12:28; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

“On the one hand are they who confound the Persons and are carried away into Judaism; on the other hand are they that, through the opposition of the natures, pass into heathenism. Between these opposite parties inspired Scripture is powerless to mediate; the traditions of the apostles cannot suggest terms of arbitration.” (The Holy Spirit, 30:77; NPNF 2, Vol. VIII)

 Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 315-387)

Learn also diligently, and from the Church, what are the books of the Old Testament, and what those of the New. And, pray, read none of the apocryphal writings….”(Catechetical Lectures, IV, 33; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

“Now these things we teach, not of our own invention, but having learned them out of the divine Scriptures used in the Church, and chiefly from the prophecy of Daniel just now read; as Gabriel also the Archangel interpreted it, speaking thus: The fourth beast shall be a fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall surpass all kingdoms. And that this kingdom is that of the Romans, has been the tradition of the Church’s interpreters.” (Catechetical Lectures, XV, 13; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

“But in learning the Faith and in professing it, acquire and keep that only, which is now delivered to you by the Church, and which has been built up strongly out of all the Scriptures. For since all cannot read the Scriptures, some being hindered as to the knowledge of them by want of learning, and others by a want of leisure, in order that the soul may not perish from ignorance, we comprise the whole doctrine of the Faith in a few lines. This summary I wish you both to commit to memory when I recite it, and to rehearse it with all diligence among yourselves, not writing it out on paper, but engraving it by the memory upon your heart , taking care while you rehearse it that no Catechumen chance to overhear the things which have been delivered to you. I wish you also to keep this as a provision through the whole course of your life, and beside this to receive no other, neither if we ourselves should change and contradict our present teaching, nor if an adverse angel, transformed into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14) should wish to lead you astray. For though we or an angel from heaven preach to you any other gospel than that you have received, let him be to you anathema. (Galatians 1:8-9) So for the present listen while I simply say the Creed , and commit it to memory; but at the proper season expect the confirmation out of Holy Scripture of each part of the contents. For the articles of the Faith were not composed as seemed good to men; but the most important points collected out of all the Scripture make up one complete teaching of the Faith. And just as the mustard seed in one small grain contains many branches, so also this Faith has embraced in few words all the knowledge of godliness in the Old and New Testaments. Take heed then, brethren, and hold fast the traditions which you now receive, and write them on the table of your heart. Guard them with reverence, lest per chance the enemy despoil any who have grown slack; or lest some heretic pervert any of the truths delivered to you.” (Catechetical Lectures, V, 12-13; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

“Now then let me finish what still remains to be said for the Article, ‘In one Holy Catholic Church,’ on which, though one might say many things, we will speak but briefly. It is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly ; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts…. Concerning this Holy Catholic Church Paul writes to Timothy, ‘That you may know how you ought to behave yourself in the House of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and ground of the truth‘ (1 Timothy 3:15)…. And while the kings of particular nations have bounds set to their authority, the Holy Church Catholic alone extends her power without limit over the whole world…. In this Holy Catholic Church receiving instruction and behaving ourselves virtuously, we shall attain the kingdom of heaven, and inherit eternal life; for which also we endure all toils, that we may be made partakers thereof from the Lord.” (Catechetical Lectures, XVIII, 23, 25, 27, 28; NPNF 2, Vol. VII)

Epiphanius (c. 315-403)

“[N]ot everything can be gotten from Sacred Scripture.” (Panacea Against All Heresies, 61,6; Jurgens, II, 73)

John Chrysostom (c. 345-407)

“[T]here was much also that was not written. Like that which is written, the unwritten too is worthy of belief. So let us regard the Tradition of the Church also as worthy of belief. It is a tradition, seek no farther. Here he shows that there were many who were shaken.” (Homilies on 2 Thess 4:2; commenting on 2 Thess 2:15; Jurgens II, 124)

“[I]t was no object with them to be writers of books: in fact, there are many things which they have delivered by unwritten tradition.” (On Acts of the Apostles, Homily 1; NPNF 1, Vol. XI)

“‘That ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you.’ It appears then that he used at that time to deliver many things also not in writing, which he shows too in many other places. But at that time he only delivered them, whereas now he adds an explanation of their reason: thus both rendering the one sort, the obedient, more steadfast, and pulling down the others’ pride, who oppose themselves.” (Homily XXVI on 1 Corinthians; commenting on 1 Cor 11:2; NPNF 1, Vol. XII)

Not by letters alone did Paul instruct his disciple in his duty, but before by words also which he shows, both in many other passages, as where he says, ‘whether by word or our Epistle’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15), and especially here. Let us not therefore suppose that anything relating to doctrine was spoken imperfectly. For many things he delivered to him without writing. Of these therefore he reminds him, when he says, ‘Hold fast the form of sound words, which you have heard of me.'” (Homily III on 2 Timothy – on 2 Tim 1:13-18; NPNF 1, Vol. XIII)

“Ver. 8. ‘Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth.’ Who are these? The magicians in the time of Moses. But how is it their names are nowhere else introduced? Either they were handed down by tradition, or it is probable that Paul knew them by inspiration.” (Homily VIII on 2 Timothy; NPNF 1, Vol. XIII)

“For, ‘remember,’ he says, ‘the words of the Lord which he spake: It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (v. 35.) And where said He this? Perhaps the Apostles delivered it by unwritten tradition; or else it is plain from (recorded sayings, from) which one could infer it.” (Homily XLV on Acts 20:32; NPNF 1, Vol. XIII)

Jerome (c. 343-420)

“Don’t you know that the laying on of hands after baptism and then the invocation of the Holy Spirit is a custom of the Churches? Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in the Acts of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of Scripture the consensus of the whole world in this respect would have the force of a command. For many other observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law, as for instance the practice of dipping the head three times in the laver, and then, after leaving the water, of tasting mingled milk and honey in representation of infancy; and, again, the practices of standing up in worship on the Lord’s day, and ceasing from fasting every Pentecost; and there are many other unwritten practices which have won their place through reason and custom. So you see we follow the practice of the Church, although it may be clear that a person was baptized before the Spirit was invoked.” (The Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 8; NPNF 2, Vol. VI)

“I might spend the day in speaking to the same effect, and dry up all the streams of argument with the single Sun of the Church. But as we have already had a long discussion and the protracted controversy has wearied out the attention of our audience, I will tell you my opinion briefly and without reserve. We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.”  (The Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 28; NPNF 2, Vol. VI)

Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

“To be sure, although on this matter, we cannot quote a clear example taken from the canonical Scriptures, at any rate, on this question, we are following the true thought of Scriptures when we observe what has appeared good to the universal Church which the authority of these same Scriptures recommends to you; thus, since Holy Scripture cannot be mistaken, anyone fearing to be misled by the obscurity of this question has only to consult on this same subject this very Church which the Holy Scriptures point out without ambiguity.” (Against Cresconius I:33; in Eno, 134)

[L]et the reader consult the rule of faith which he has gathered from the plainer passages of Scripture, and from the authority of the Church….” (On Christian Doctrine, 3,2:2; NPNF 1, Vol. II, 557)

“And thus a man who is resting upon faith, hope, and love, and who keeps a firm hold upon these, does not need the Scriptures except for the purpose of instructing others. Accordingly, many live without copies of the Scriptures, even in solitude, on the strength of these three graces.” (On Christian Doctrine, I, 39:43; NPNF 1, Vol. II, 534)

[I]f you acknowledge the supreme authority of Scripture, you should recognize that authority which from the time of Christ Himself, through the ministry of His apostles, and through a regular succession of bishops in the seats of the apostles, has been preserved to our own day throughout the whole world, with a reputation known to all.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, 33:9; NPNF 1, Vol. IV, 345)

The authority of our books [Scriptures], which is confirmed by agreement of so many nations, supported by a succession of apostles, bishops, and councils, is against you.” (Reply to Faustus the Manichaean, 13:5; NPNF 1, Vol. IV, 201)

“As to those other things which we hold on the authority, not of Scripture, but of tradition, and which are observed throughout the whole world, it may be understood that they are held as approved and instituted either by the apostles themselves, or by plenary Councils, whose authority in the Church is most useful, e.g. the annual commemoration, by special solemnities, of the Lord’s passion, resurrection, and ascension, and of the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven, and whatever else is in like manner observed by the whole Church wherever it has been established…. For often have I perceived, with extreme sorrow, many disquietudes caused to weak brethren by the contentious pertinacity or superstitious vacillation of some who, in matters of this kind, which do not admit of final decision by the authority of Holy Scripture, or by the tradition of the universal Church….” (Letter to Januarius, 54, 1, 1; 54, 2, 3; cf. NPNF 1, I, 301)

“For this question of baptism had not been as yet completely worked out, but yet the Church observed the most wholesome custom of correcting what was wrong, not repeating what was already given, even in the case of schismatics and heretics: she healed the wounded part, but did not meddle with what was whole. And this custom [of not re-baptizing heretics], coming, I suppose, from tradition (like many other things which are held to have been handed down under their actual sanction, because they are preserved throughout the whole Church, though they are not found either in their letters, or in the Councils of their successors),— this most wholesome custom, I say, according to the holy Cyprian, began to be what is called amended by his predecessor Agrippinus. But, according to the teaching which springs from a more careful investigation into the truth, which, after great doubt and fluctuation, was brought at last to the decision of a plenary Council….” (On Baptism, 2, 7, 12)

“[T]he custom, which is opposed to Cyprian, may be supposed to have had its origin in apostolic tradition, just as there are many things which are observed by the whole Church, and therefore are fairly held to have been enjoined by the apostles, which yet are not mentioned in their writings.” (On Baptism, 5, 23, 31)

“As to the first man, the father of mankind, it is agreed by almost the entire Church that the Lord loosed him from that prison; a tenet which must be believed to have been accepted not without reason,— from whatever source it was handed down to the Churchalthough the authority of the canonical Scriptures cannot be brought forward as speaking expressly in its support, though this seems to be the opinion which is more than any other borne out by these words in the book of Wisdom (Wisdom 10:1-2).” (Letter to Evodius of Uzalis, Epistle 164:6; NPNF 1, Vol. I, 516)

“God has placed this authority first of all in his Church.” (Explanations of the Psalms, Tract 103:8, PL 37:520-521; in Congar, 392)

“But those reasons which I have here given, I have either gathered from the authority of the church, according to the tradition of our forefathers, or from the testimony of the divine Scriptures, or from the nature itself of numbers and of similitudes. No sober person will decide against reason, no Christian against the Scriptures, no peaceable person against the church.” (On the Trinity, 4,6:10; NPNF 1, Vol. III, 75)

“It is obvious; the faith allows it; the Catholic Church approves; it is true.” (Sermon 117, 6)

Theodoret of Cyr (c. 393-c. 466)

I have ever kept the faith of the apostles undefiled, and on this account alone I have cherished the hope that I shall meet with mercy on the day of the Lord’s appearing. On behalf of this faith I continue to contend against every kind of heresy; this faith I am ever giving to the nurslings of piety; by means of this faith I have metamorphosed countless wolves into sheep, and have brought them to the Savior who is the Arch-shepherd of us all. So have I learned not only from the apostles and prophets but also from the interpreters of their writings, Ignatius, Eustathius, Athanasius, Basil, Gregory, John, and the rest of the lights of the world; and before these from the holy Fathers in council at Nicæa, whose confession of the faith I preserve in its integrity, like an ancestral inheritance, styling corrupt and enemies of the truth all who dare to transgress its decrees. I invoke your greatness, now that you have heard from me in these terms, to shut the mouths of my calumniators.” (To Florentius, Epistle 89; NPNF 2, Vol. III: 283)

Vincent of Lerins (d.c. 450)

“But it will be said, If the words, the sentiments, the promises of Scripture, are appealed to by the Devil and his disciples, of whom some are false apostles, some false prophets and false teachers, and all without exception heretics, what are Catholics and the sons of Mother Church to do? How are they to distinguish truth from falsehood in the sacred Scriptures? They must be very careful to pursue that course which, in the beginning of this Commonitory, we said that holy and learned men had commended to us, that is to say, they must interpret the sacred Canon according to the traditions of the Universal Church and in keeping with the rules of Catholic doctrine, in which Catholic and Universal Church, moreover, they must follow universality, antiquity, consent. And if at any time a part opposes itself to the whole, novelty to antiquity, the dissent of one or a few who are in error to the consent of all or at all events of the great majority of Catholics, then they must prefer the soundness of the whole to the corruption of a part; in which same whole they must prefer the religion of antiquity to the profaneness of novelty; and in antiquity itself in like manner, to the temerity of one or of a very few they must prefer, first of all, the general decrees, if such there be, of a Universal Council, or if there be no such, then, what is next best, they must follow the consentient belief of many and great masters. Which rule having been faithfully, soberly, and scrupulously observed, we shall with little difficulty detect the noxious errors of heretics as they arise.” (Commonitory of the Antinquity and Universality of the Catholic Faith, 70)

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Origen: More 2nd/3rd Century Confirmation of Catholicism

Posted by Tony Listi on November 6, 2010

Origen (185-254) was a very early catechetical teacher. In his work De Principiis, he demonstrates that the truths of Catholicism have deep and early roots, whereas Protestantism does not. He upholds Church tradition and authority as the fundamental rule of faith for the teaching of correct doctrine and confirms the necessity of obedience for salvation.

All emphases are mine.

Before Origen proceeds to state the content of the Christian faith, he notes that their are differences of belief among people who call themselves Christians and thus sees it necessary to lay out an overarching rule for how to distinguish true from false doctrines:

Since many, however, of those who profess to believe in Christ differ from each other, not only in small and trifling matters, but also on subjects of the highest importance, as, e.g., regarding God, or the Lord Jesus Christ, or the Holy Spirit; and not only regarding these, but also regarding others which are created existences, viz., the powers and the holy virtues; it seems on that account necessary first of all to fix a definite limit and to lay down an unmistakable rule regarding each one of these, and then to pass to the investigation of other points…. [S]eeing there are many who think they hold the opinions of Christ, and yet some of these think differently from their predecessors, yet as the teaching of the Church, transmitted in orderly succession from the apostles, and remaining in the Churches to the present day, is still preserved, that alone is to be accepted as truth which differs in no respect from ecclesiastical and tradition.

Origen then, in Catholic creed-like fashion, says what the Christian faith holds to be true, careful to claim apostolic/Church authority for these doctrines:

Now it ought to be known that the holy apostles, in preaching the faith of Christ, delivered themselves with the utmost clearness on certain points which they believed to be necessary to every one…. The particular points clearly delivered in the teaching of the apostles are as follow…. Then, Thirdly, the apostles related that the Holy Spirit was associated in honour and dignity with the Father and the Son…. And that this Spirit inspired each one of the saints, whether prophets or apostles; and that there was not one Spirit in the men of the old dispensation, and another in those who were inspired at the advent of Christ, is most clearly taught throughout the Churches…. After these points, also, the apostolic teaching is that the soul, having a substance and life of its own, shall, after its departure from the world, be rewarded according to its deserts…. This also is clearly defined in the teaching of the Church, that every rational soul is possessed of free-will and volition…. [T]his beginning, itself, whether it be by birth or not, or whether bestowed upon the body from without or no, is not distinguished with sufficient clearness in the teaching of the Church…. Regarding the devil and his angels, and the opposing influences, the teaching of the Church has laid down that these beings exist indeed…. This also is a part of the Church’s teaching, that the world was made and took its beginning at a certain time, and is to be destroyed on account of its wickedness. But what existed before this world, or what will exist after it, has not become certainly known to the many, for there is no clear statement regarding it in the teaching of the Church…. Respecting which there is one opinion throughout the whole Church, that the whole law is indeed spiritual…. This also is a part of the teaching of the Church, that there are certain angels of God, and certain good influences, which are His servants in accomplishing the salvation of men…. Every one, therefore, must make use of elements and foundations of this sort…if he would desire to form a connected series and body of truths agreeably to the reason of all these things, that by clear and necessary statements he may ascertain the truth regarding each individual topic, and form, as we have said, one body of doctrine, by means of illustrations and arguments….

Notice at the end how Origen assumes the necessity of unity of true doctrine.

In talking of the end of the world, Origen also assumes the unity and authority of Church:

…if his mind be full of preconceptions and prejudices on other points, he may judge these to be heretical and opposed to the faith of the Church, yielding in so doing not so much to the convictions of reason as to the dogmatism of prejudice…. And in keeping with this is the declaration of the same apostle, when he exhorts us, who even in the present life are placed in the Church, in which is the form of that kingdom which is to come, to this same similitude of unity: “That you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”

He again upholds the authority of the Church when discussing corporeal and incorporeal beings:

We have now to ascertain what those matters are which it is proper to treat in the following pages according to our dogmatic belief, i.e., in agreement with the creed of the Church.

He again upholds the authority of the Church when discussing judgment and hell:

But since the discourse has reminded us of the subjects of a future judgment and of retribution, and of the punishments of sinners, according to the threatenings of holy Scripture and the contents of the Church’s teaching…. But now, also, for the sake of logical order in our treatise, there will be no absurdity in restating a few points from such works, especially since some take offense at the creed of the Church, as if our belief in the resurrection were foolish, and altogether devoid of sense; and these are principally heretics, who, I think, are to be answered in the following manner.

He again upholds the authority of the Church when discussing free will:

But as the preaching of the Church includes a belief in a future and just judgment of God, which belief incites and persuades men to a good and virtuous life, and to an avoidance of sin by all possible means; and as by this it is undoubtedly indicated that it is within our own power to devote ourselves either to a life that is worthy of praise, or to one that is worthy of censure…. Since in the preaching of the Church there is included the doctrine respecting a just judgment of God, which, when believed to be true, incites those who hear it to live virtuously, and to shun sin by all means, inasmuch as they manifestly acknowledge that things worthy of praise and blame are within our own power, come and let us discuss by themselves a few points regarding the freedom of the will

Origen also says that God demands fruit and labor from us, though He alone gives salvation:

So also in the race of our life we ourselves must expend labour, and bring diligence and zeal to bear; but it is from God that salvation is to be hoped for as the fruit of our labour. Otherwise, if God demand none of our labour, His commandments will appear to be superfluous. In vain, also, does Paul blame some for having fallen from the truth, and praise others for abiding in the faith; and to no purpose does he deliver certain precepts and institutions to the Churches: in vain, also, do we ourselves either desire or run after what is good. But it is certain that these things are not done in vain; and it is certain that neither do the apostles give instructions in vain, nor the Lord enact laws without a reason. It follows, therefore, that we declare it to be in vain, rather, for the heretics to speak evil of these good declarations.

He again upholds the authority of the Church and its complementarity with Scripture when discussing the human body:

For the faith of the Church does not admit the view of certain Grecian philosophers, that there is besides the body, composed of four elements, another fifth body, which is different in all its parts, and diverse from this our present body; since neither out of sacred Scripture can any produce the slightest suspicion of evidence for such an opinion, nor can any rational inference from things allow the reception of it, especially when the holy apostle manifestly declares, that it is not new bodies which are given to those who rise from the dead, but that they receive those identical ones which they had possessed when living, transformed from an inferior into a better condition.

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Hypocrisy, Abuse, and Truth in the Catholic Church

Posted by Tony Listi on August 15, 2010

Hypocrisy and abuse are no proof of error; they are proof of weak, sinful human beings. To point to hypocrisy or abuse in argumentation is an ad hominem fallacy, a fallacy that many dissenters to and enemies of the Catholic Church employ over and over again.

The distinction between abstract/absolute ideas and and individual actions is crucial to the acceptance of the Catholic faith (or any belief system for that matter). Yet many people are unable to understand or unwilling to accept this crucial distinction. 

If the saints of the Church are not proof of the truth of Catholic doctrines, then neither are corrupt clergy proof of the error of Catholic doctrines. Doctrinal truth is not dependent on the character of individual men and women but upon the Holy Spirit acting through the offices of pope and bishop, who declare what is true doctrine (1 Tim 4:11, 6:2-5; Titus 1:13, 2:1, 15).

St. Peter and St. Paul were both sinners and hypocrites, as Scripture tells us. Peter is rebuked by Paul because of Peter’s hypocrisy in declaring no food unclean and circumcision unnecessary at the Council of Jerusalem yet drawing away from the Gentiles in fear of “the circumcision party” (Gal 2:12-14; Act 11:1-18, 15:6-14). Paul too showed himself to be a hypocrite to Christian teaching in his trivial quarrel with Barnabas over John Mark and in his other sins (Act 15:37-40; Rom 7:14-25).

Did the sins of Peter and Paul make their teachings any less true? Of course not!

Truth does not cease being truth just because an individual acts sinfully and in contradiction to truth that he knows to be true and has preached to be true. This truth about truth is true even in the case of popes, bishops, and priests.  The sins of clergy or individual lay Catholics have not and cannot change Catholic truths, which Catholic clergy, esp. the popes, have merely preserved and passed on since the time of the original apostles.

So it doesn’t matter how many times you bring up the Crusades, Inquisition, adulterous popes and clergy, individual Catholics complicit in the Holocaust, leftist Catholics like Nancy Pelosi, pedophile priests, abuse of annulments, or any other scandal, whether real or false: NONE of these things have changed Catholic doctrine over time. Nor could they.

That this is an historical fact is a tangible testament to the unique work and presence of the Holy Spirit in the Roman Catholic Church, which has preserved correct doctrine without change for about 2000 years. Jesus was not lying when He said that His Church built upon the Rock of Cephas would not fail.

The Roman Catholic Church is holy, not because its leaders and members have been or are sinless but because by the power of the Holy Spirit it possesses certain and true doctrines without error, doctrines that can be traced historically through Church history back to the beginning. “If the root is holy, so are the branches” (Rom 11:16).

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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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