Who’s to Say? Answering the Roman Catholic on Matters of Authority and Truth

Recently I’ve been enjoying an amiable debate with a Roman Catholic from Lebanon (via Twitter). We keep coming back to the question of the early church – I insist that we Reformation Christians are the recovered, ancient church, and of course he insists that Rome has always been the chief authority over all other churches. Here’s a snippet from our exchange:

Stalemate?

What’s his point? He’s arguing that the early church lived and survived on the word of the Church – you see that? When he asks “how did Christians worship for the first 400 yrs?” he is implying the Bible was not the regula fidei (measure of the faith) for corporate Christian life. The people of God apparently depended completely, or nearly completely upon the pronouncements and teachings of the Church in Rome, if I’m hearing Abraham correctly. Where was the New Testament before 400AD? I guess we’d have to let Abraham tell us what he thinks.
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Was early Christianity the province of a Roman Catholic pope, or was it a family of churches who shared their deepest convictions about Scripture, living in unity by the sole authority of Scripture?
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And the answer is… not always perfectly clear, that is, if you’re trying to read Scripture through the lens of church history (rather than the other way around). This error is analogous to trying to know God by looking at a mountain scene. mont_blanc_oct_2004You will certainly gather some truths about Him when you reflect on the astonishing beauties before you, but can you know who He is in detail from the mountain scene?
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No – creation only reflects God in a general way. We need Him to speak to us directly for us to know what creation is, and who He is. In the same way, the church (like the mountain) can tell us a great deal about how to understand Scripture, but the church is the creation of Scripture, not the other way around. We need the voice of the Creator (Scripture) to tell us what His creation (the church) is. Make sure you understood what I just said before you read further.
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To interpret Scripture through the lens of the church’s history is to beg the question: to which voices do we listen? Who spoke correctly on this or that doctrine? In truth, it is the inerrant Word of God, written by the first-century Magisterial Apostles, that never changes, and by which all other things in creation are correctly seen and known (including the true identity of the church).

Answering a Specific Objection

Abraham brought up Cyprian in a subsequent reply to me. Here’s the quote:cyprian
Seems pretty straightforward, right? As early as 251, great voices of Christianity pointed to Rome when the question arose: “who’s in charge around here?” So what does that mean for us? Should we all repent of our Protestantism, walk into the nearest confessional booth, and begin praying the Hail Mary?
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Not so fast. Once again, the true nature of the church cannot be known by shuffling through church history to find individuals defining her, such as with Cyprian here. Although his testimony is very important in shedding light on what men in his generation believed about the church, it says little about what Scripture reveals and defines – and we can all agree that the first-century church gets the final say, right?
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Sadly, by the third century and beyond, men had taken the “what is” of second-century fathers (i.e. the Roman Church “is” presently the most eminent, faithful of the apostolic sees), and mistakenly traded it for an “ought” – that is, that Jesus meant to establish an eternal headquarters for His church in the city of Rome, and that organization is 1:1 with the church of the redeemed.

The Voices of the Early Church Fathers

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For every quote like that above from Cyprian, there are church fathers who speak of the Scriptures as the final, materially sufficient authority for all churches at all times.
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Let’s illustrate, in brief. In his book Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith (Vol. II), William Webster characterizes the Roman Catholic position:
According to [the Council of] Trent (1546-1563), then, there is the written and unwritten word of God which together comprise the fullness of God’s revelation to man. The Roman Catholic Church claims to possess both, emphatically stating that this was the belief and practice of the Church in the beginning and throughout the ages of the Church historically. It was supposedly during the Reformation that this teaching was radically altered as 1500 years of Church practice was suddenly eradicated and a false dichotomy introduced between Scripture and the Church.1
Here Webster is pointing out what my friend Abraham is arguing, namely, that Rome teaches we cannot know God’s Word without hearing it from the mouth of the Roman Magisterium. You and I can pick up a Bible and read it’s words, but we cannot know the essential meaning of those words if Rome is not interpreting for us.
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Abraham’s quote from Cyprian certainly shows how important the church at Rome was to the early churches in general. Both Paul and Peter had been associated with the church in Rome, and the greatest New Testament epistle ever written was addressed to it (Romans).
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And so the implication of the Cyprian quote above is that to be in union with “the chair of Peter,” i.e. the Roman Church, is to be in union with the only Church Jesus founded. In other words, the Church is always and forever the visible organization operating out of the city of Rome – individual Christians are a part of the Church in so far as they are in communion with the bishop of Rome. This is the claim of our Roman Catholic friends.
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When we examine the early fathers, we see a mixture of perspectives; however, and as we look very early, we see the fathers consistently appealed to Scripture as the highest authority, often identifying it with apostolic tradition.
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First of all, Abraham claims that the New Testament was not “compiled” until centuries after the apostles lived. In essence he claims no one in the early churches really knew what Scripture was until a pope finally called a council to make it clear.
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As a singular example among many, Polycarp, a personal disciple of the Apostle John, wrote to the church in Philippi around 130AD, saying “For I trust that ye are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures, and that nothing is hid from you; but to me this privilege is not yet granted. It is declared then in these Scriptures, “Be ye angry, and sin not,” and, “Let not the sun go down upon your  wrath.”2
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Polycarp called New Testament writings “Sacred Scriptures” right alongside the Psalms. This means that he, his disciples, and the parishioners at Philippi knew that the New Testament letters were Scripture. Nowhere in Polycarp, nor in the other very early fathers, do we find him appealing to a sacred tradition outside of the written Scriptures.3 Realize this as well: Polycarp knew what he knew because of his time with the Apostle John. If we want to appeal to anyone in church history as having an authoritative view of apostolic tradition apart from Scripture, Polycarp would be our very best choice. The man learned at John’s feet, and he spoke of the New Testament writings as “Scripture” 2-300 years before Abraham says the “Church” pronounced upon the definition of the New Testament.
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Webster further argues the concept of “apostolic tradition” was introduced in “the mid to late second century” by “Irenaeus and Tertullian.”4 This apostolic tradition became known as the rule of faith, and carried great authority over the early centuries, being invoked at the great councils to make final their decisions on doctrine. Let’s look at how Irenaeus and Tertullian defined apostolic tradition – and if it meant to them what it means to present-day Romanists.

Irenaeus

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Irenaeus writes: “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.”5 Here notice three things:
1) Irenaeus calls the New Testament writings “Scriptures,” and like Polycarp, he did so hundreds of years before any council was called.
2) He indicates that the apostolic proclamation is found in those Scriptures.
3) He calls the New Testament “the ground and pillar of our faith,” which are Paul’s words from 1 Tim. 3:15, where he referred to the church as such.
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On this third point, a very special understanding can be deduced. Irenaeus knew that Paul called the church the ground and pillar of our faith – so by consciously choosing to equate the New Testament with that same exact quality, that is, as the foundation of what we believe, Irenaeus effectively argued that the Scriptures are the greatest and final authority for the church in all her life of piety and doctrine.
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Let’s look further. In that same paragraph, Irenaeus recounts how we got the four gospels, and in doing so he defines the canonical gospels of his day (circa 175AD). How could he have known which gospels were canonical and genuine? His method was in appealing to the general knowledge of the previous century among the many churches (plural) who had known the provenance of these writings by virtue of having known the companions of the apostles.
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Irenaeus’s purpose in writing this book was to refute the heresies of the Gnostics, who famously produced volumes of pseudo-Scripture (and these bizarre, fascinating writings are the playground of liberal scholars today); therefore, in his Against Heresies refutation, Irenaeus pointed to the trump card of the church catholic – the words and teachings of the apostles, now recorded for us in Scripture.6
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Now see how he goes on to say “when we refer [the Gnostics] 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…”7 Here he seems to grant authority to a tradition received “by means of succession of” elders – but is this an authoritative tradition like it is taught in the present-day Roman Catholic Church? – a tradition that speaks from an unwritten, unrecorded authority on par with the New Testament? The answer is right in the words of Irenaeus: “that tradition which originates from the apostles” – the New Testament writings themselves, whose reading, copying, and preaching was faithfully preserved in the same urban churches that the Magisterial apostles founded.
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You see, in 175AD, there was every reason to make appeal to the apostolic succession in the urban churches around the Mediterranean – it had only been several generations since the apostles had lived, written, and ministered among the people. Polycarp was in the living memory of Irenaeus! Of course these second-century apologists should have pointed to the churches that the apostles founded, including the great church in Rome, for in these churches were the recent memories of the apostolic presence, so to try to present a new and different religion (like Gnosticism) was to seek to ignore the legacy of the apostles, so concretely present in the living churches of Rome, Antioch, Ephesus, et al.
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Yet by the third, fourth, fifth centuries and beyond, there was no living memory of an apostle, an apostolic father (like Polycarp or Papias), and some of the churches of primitive Christianity had fallen into disrepair. There was no longer a straight, clear line by which apologists could thread the historical needle back through to the original stitching of the apostles and of Jesus – all that remained were their writings.
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But I would be accused of selectivity if I were to ignore Irenaeus’s most direct affirmation of the Roman Church, from chapter 3, [we are]
indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.
So there it is! Once again, we all need to rush to the nearest confessional to be converted to the Roman Church, right? Well, no. We need to agree with the apostolical [sic] tradition that existed in 175AD – that very message and truth of the apostles derived from the pillar and ground of our faith, the Scriptures. Here’s the issue with Irenaeus’s words above: we in 2016 have access to the exact same apostolic tradition they had, via the New Testament. What was the tradition being passed down from bishop to bishop in the Church at Rome in the second century? It was the writings of the apostles, accepted, preached, and believed among the churches. There is no evidence in this passage of a non-written, authoritative tradition among these men that would be secretly passed down like some esoteric password. Irenaeus demonstrated the succession of Roman bishops at his time in order to contrast with the Gnostics, who had no connection with the apostles, their churches, nor their doctrines.
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But the greatest evidence of the Gnostic sect being outside the orthodox and catholic church is in how they contradicted the Scriptures. Once again, Irenaeus said of them “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…”8
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And when he turned to begin his full-frontal attack on the Gnostics, after he had finished his introductory chapters, he wrote “Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel…”9
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In essence, Irenaeus shows us that as of the late second century, the church at Rome was the most recognizable remnant of the apostolic age, and that in her teachers was found the reflection of fidelity to the apostolic writings. Key to remember here is that Irenaeus nowhere appeals to an unwritten, co-authoritative tradition which could act as a source of doctrine in the churches. This is the central claim of medieval and modern Romanism, and it is flatly contradicted by the words of Irenaeus, who named the New Testament as the pillar and ground of the church, rather than the other way around. Plenty more could be brought forth from Irenaeus on this issue, but I will leave it at this for now.

Tertullian

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Rather than continue my extended discourse with Tertullian as I began it with Irenaeus, allow me to post here just his quotes with bare-bones commentary from me. Read these, and ask yourself if these words comport more with the Romanist doctrine of multiple sources of revelation, or whether this is a man defining tradition as the Reformation churches now do – as the normal and usual means of interpreting Scripture, which is itself the ultimate authority on all matters of truth and doctrine.
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Speaking of heretics, Tertullian asks “Well, but they actually treat of the Scriptures and recommend (their opinions) out of the Scriptures! To be sure they do. From what other source could they derive arguments concerning the things of the faith, except from the records of the faith?”10
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What are “the records of the faith?” By his very question, Tertullian indicates that there is no other source of ultimate authority in the church, but for the Scriptures.
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And the following is devastating to the Roman Catholic position. Tertullian, who spoke so often of tradition, bluntly defines the source of all traditions in Christianity: “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.”11

Conclusion

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To Abraham, and anyone who has bravely read this far: I believe strongly that the tradition of the early church fathers was to appeal ultimately to the Scriptures as the final authority in truth and doctrine, and that all appeals to the Church at Rome were appeals of a derivative nature, viz. that that Church, most eminent and apostolic of all churches, was the strongest repository and bulwark of the apostolic traditions. To disagree with second-century Rome was to effectively disagree with the Scriptures, since the two were so close in message.
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Later men interpreted these sayings as if always and forever the Church in Rome, no matter the nature of her bishops or teachers, was to remain firm and immovably the one, catholic, apostolic church of Jesus – yet this was an error. Here the later men conflated the early importance of Rome with an eternal decree of a geographical deposit, as if just by her being in the city limits of Rome, the religious organization there could never err.
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What was truly the Christian church in Rome in the second century has long ago become a husk of the true seed of the faith. In Revelation 2 and 3, Jesus makes clear He can remove the candlestick of His Spirit from any church which apostatizes from the orthodox tradition of the apostles, and from orthopraxis. In the case of the Roman Catholic Church, this apostasy is long documented and cemented in her so-called “infallible” decrees. Many things Rome has dogmatized are in direct contradiction to the religion of Jesus and His men. For this, and other reasons, no true orthodox, catholic saint like myself can recognize a sister church in the walls of Vatican City.
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And thankfully, the truth of the gospel has not been destroyed during the long descent of Rome’s Church, for today, as with Irenaeus and Tertullian, we possess the records of the church in the writings of the New Testament; and note, those earliest men of the faith knew and appealed to the New Testament letters as authoritative, long before any Roman bishop ever called a council to decree such.
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In true Christian love,
Adam

1. William Webster, Holy Scripture: The Ground and Pillar of Our Faith: An Historical Defense of the Reformation Principle of Sola Scriptura, Vol. II (Battle Ground, WA: Christian Resources, Inc., 2001), 17.

2. Polycarp, Letter to the Philippians, chap. 12, ccel.org.

3. Webster, Scripture, 22.

4. Ibid

5. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, book III, chap. 1, par. 1, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 1, ccel.org.

6. Ibid, par. 2.

7. Ibid., chap. 2, par. 1.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid., chap. 5, par. 1.

10. Tertullian, Against Marcion: The Prescription Against Heretics, chap. 14, in Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 3, ccel.org.

11. Ibid., chap. 19; cf. 21-22.

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6 thoughts on “Who’s to Say? Answering the Roman Catholic on Matters of Authority and Truth

  1. Apostolic Succession, Petrine Supremacy and the Views of the Early Church Fathers

    My appologies for the formatting as this was a copy paste from a Word document.

    Thank you, Mr. Esposito, for giving me the opportunity to respond to your argument on apostolic succession and the opinions of the Early Church Fathers (ECF). I appreciate your respectful approach and endeavor to show the same courtesy, for my intent is not to win a debate, but to win souls to Christ. I know you share the same intent. If you’d refrain from insulting terms like “Romanist,” I’d be grateful. It would show additional charity. I apologize for my verbosity, but in the words of St. Athanasius: “it is better to submit to the blame of repetition than to leave out anything that ought to be set down.”1 I will respond to each of your points on this subject in your established order.

    “1) I totally reject that claim” (If the early church was similar to modern day Protestantism then how come we don’t see this type of Christianity anywhere before the Reformation, anywhere in the world?)

    Yes, you clearly reject this claim through your Calvinist position. Contrary to this counter-argument, you imply the ECF were reformation era Christians in their doctrine. To be otherwise would be to admit the ECF were members of a Church other than your own. The existence of a reform era church 1500 years before the reformation is your burden and I will leave it to you. Additionally, we meet the definitional problem of Protestantism here first. Which Protestant church would we see in the ECF? Would it be the TULIP Calvinists? Is it the almost Catholic, but not quite, Elizabethan Anglicans? I think we can both agree the ECF weren’t members of the pro-gay marriage, abortion approving modern-day Protestants. For the sake of argument, let’s assume you argue the ECF were Calvinist Protestants in doctrine and test the facts.

    In this response, I will demonstrate that the ECF understood a basic form of apostolic succession that is the Roman Catholic form of the concept. John Calvin’s “invisible Church” is described in Institutes: “that which is actually in God’s presence, into which no persons are received but those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit… [it] includes not only the saints presently living on earth, but all the elect from the beginning of the world.”(Institutes 4.1.7) The ECF agree with the concept of a “people of God”, but not apart from the visible Church, with its hierarchy, bishops, priests, deacons and Petrine primacy. I will show that to the ECF, without apostolic succession, there is no Church.

    2) You state: “The Early Church fathers are a wax nose-notoriously imprecise on many doctrines-they’re not authoritative-but for what they are, their writings reflect very much what Protestants picked up in the 16th century.”

    In response: This statement is an attempt to have your cake and eat it too. On the one hand, you state the ECF are imprecise and not authoritative, but on the other hand, reflect modern Protestantism. This is an unfair standard, but a convenient one for your position. I’ll grant you some level of imprecision, but I suspect this is a set-up to discount the Roman Catholic views of the ECF to be dismissed as the product of imprecision. The ECF, in their sum, were intensely precise. Where circumstances made imprecision difficult (ex: Ignatius going to his execution), we can grant them some level of imprecision, but not anything close to notorious imprecision.

    You state that the ECF are not authoritative. In one sense, you are correct. In terms of ecclesiastic leadership, they do not maintain authority today in the Church (this is the point of apostolic succession; one Bishop dies and passes his authority on). However, in the sense relevant to this debate, the ECF are supremely authoritative: namely, the ECF are authoritative on the beliefs, doctrines and practices of Christ’s Church in the centuries following his resurrection. For example: If I found several letters from the founding fathers of the United States where they write about their succession as Presidents, I would call them authorities on the subject. Again, your argument on authority smells of “on the one hand, on the other” as it sets up any proof of their Catholicity in their teachings as, hypothetically, “well, that’s interesting that they believed in apostolic succession, but they aren’t authorities.” On this particular subject of apostolic succession, the ECF are perfectly authoritative. Apostolic succession is the order of bishops descending from the apostles, and these men were the number in that order. Their authority on the subject of their own ordinations is self-evident.

    You argue that reading scripture through the lens of history is like learning about God through creation. I see what you are trying to say with this, but the analogy fails as we are not attempting to understand scripture through history, but rather know what our father’s believed about Jesus during the early Church period. You assert that the early Church “lived in unity by the sole authority of scripture.” However, none of the ECF believed that scripture was the cause of their unity nor did they recognize scripture as a singular authority. It also opens the question to what is scripture. The ECF regularly quote the 7 books removed from the Cannon by the late reformers right along side the other 66 books. Are we to accept their appeals to these rejected scriptures as appeals to singular authority? If so, where does that leave the protestants in abandoning these books?

    Did the ECF believe they lived in unity by the authority of scripture? The ECF were obsessed with unity and viewed schism harshly. Pope St. Clement I, writing in about AD95: “Let us take our body for an example. The head is nothing without the feet, and the feet are nothing without the head; yea, the very smallest members of our body are necessary and useful to the whole body. But all work harmoniously together, and are under one common rule for the preservation of the whole body.”2 If Pope St. Clement was a Calvinist, what common rule would he be referencing? This sole rule of the body would have to be scripture to fit the doctrines of Calvin’s sola scriptura. But he was not referencing Scripture. Scripture is not a part of the body and clearly not St. Clement’s intent. He is referencing Christ ruling the whole body as its head and its various parts the members of His Church. Since Christ is not present physically to rule the body of the Church, what stands in His stead and rules the Church? Calvinists may argue that scripture is this ruling authority, but the ECF did not.

    As we see other ECF agreeing with Clement, we can understand their position. St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, writing around the year AD100: “For what is the bishop but one who beyond all others possesses all power and authority, so far as it is possible for a man to possess it, who according to his ability has been made an imitator of the Christ Of God?”3 He is calling the Bishop to act in persona Christi; to be seen as a Christ on Earth. His complete argument for unity as from the Bishop is clear: “Be ye subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual.”4 What is this fleshly union he is speaking of? It is unity with physically existing Bishops. The Church is not immaterial, but exists, physically in the world. St. Ignatius probably knew St. John and there is even a holy legend that St. Ignatius was one of the children Jesus blessed in Mk. 9. He was a contemporary of St. Polycarp. It may seem a radical proposition to grant Christ’s authority to the Bishops, but he states the same argument over and over. What St. Ignatius does not teach is that scripture stands in the place of Christ with authority over the Church.

    St. Ignatius writing to the Magnesians on his way to his execution furthers his argument on the authority of the Bishop: “Since therefore I have, in the persons before mentioned, beheld the whole multitude of you in faith and love, I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles…” Notice what is missing? He is writing about authority and unity and never mentions scripture. This isn’t to say scripture wasn’t central to the ECF; it was. But scripture wasn’t a central theme of authority; the men appointed by the Apostles were Christ’s authority on Earth. Unity came from the visible Church, under the authority of the Bishop acting in the place of God Himself. St. Ignatius was no heretic and stands in direct opposition to your argument of unity by scripture alone.
    Unity comes not from scripture, but from belonging to an apostolic Church. Pope St. Clement I (third successor of Peter, ~AD90) writing in his First Epistle to the Corinthians is clear in his recognition of apostolic authority and I quote at length: “The apostles have preached the Gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first-fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. Nor was this any new thing, since indeed many ages before it was written concerning bishops and deacons. For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, “I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith.”5 Before you argue that they were first “established in the word of God”, remember, there was no new testament when the Apostles were sent forth to preach. No written gospel, no script, only oral tradition of Christ’s teaching; the mother of Sacred Scripture.

    This argument from Pope St. Clement is clear: God sent Jesus. Jesus sent the Apostles. The Apostles sent the Bishops and deacons. This is apostolic authority, passed down. These are but a handful of examples of dozens of passages where the ECF cite apostolic authority in their letters of correction and condemnation of heresy and schism. Unity was, first and foremost, a product of unity with Christ and unity with his appointed successors on Earth. As St. Ignatius famously wrote: “In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church.”6

    Your next point is a refutation of the claim that Roman Primacy is orthodoxy. You claim that it is a product 3rd century revisionism of 2nd century facts; a result of the stability of the Christian Church in Rome. This is claim is false. I concede that the full development of Roman primacy was not complete in the 1st century, but you could also concede that even the doctrine of the trinity wasn’t complete either. Can we see Roman primacy in the 1st and 2nd century? To see this point we must first understand how the ECF viewed Peter and his primacy. Of course, Calvinists do not believe the Bishop of Rome has special authority, but as early as AD80 we hear a clearly Catholic understanding of Petrine Primacy. Clement of Alexandria, writing in AD200, not espousing a new heretical statement: “Therefore on hearing those words, the blessed Peter, the chosen, the pre-eminent, the first of the disciples, for whom alone and Himself the Saviour paid tribute, quickly seized and comprehended the saying. And what does he say? “Lo, we have left all and followed Thee.”7 Or, we can hear the words of Tatian (writing a synergy and the only Gospel in Syria according to the father of Syriac Christianity) in AD170: “And ye, what say ye that I am? Simon Cephas answered and said, Thou art the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon son of Jonah: flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee also, that thou art Cephas, and on this rock will I build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”8 Tertullian, Origen, St. Cyprian (as you cite), Clement to James, and many more ECF saw Peter as the rock upon which His Church was built. Your claim that this was an error, a heresy even, or at least a false doctrine is not supported by any ECF. If such an egregious error was permeating virtually all of the ECF letters, why is there no dissent? These men were no shrinking violets. They would rather burn than adopt heresy, and yet they don’t oppose Petrine Primacy. There is not a single instance of opposition from any ECF. Why the silence on a such a vital matter?

    Peter passed his primacy to his successors. In AD80 we hear of the See of Rome having special authority to distribute apostolic exhortations: “You will write two books, and you will send the one to Clemens and the other to Grapte. And Clemens will send his to foreign countries, for permission has been granted to him to do so.” [The Shepherd 1:2:4 (c AD80)]. Clemens is Pope St. Clement I, Bishop of Rome. This small example illustrates an important point: Rome had special permission, permission from Christ, different from that of other bishops.

    Clearest of all is St. Irenaeus of Lyon in AD189. St. Irenaeus was a disciple of St. Polycarp and recognized the authority specially endowed in the See of Peter: “Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its pre-eminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.”9 This astounding section of St. Irenaeus’ soaring work, Against Heresies, demonstrates apostolic succession, ecclesiastical authority, while at the same time explaining Rome’s pre-eminent authority, not because of doctrinal stability as you claim, but because of Rome’s pre-eminent authority.

    You argue: “When we examine the early fathers, we see a mixture of perspectives; however, and as we look very early, we see the fathers consistently appealed to Scripture as the highest authority, often identifying it with apostolic tradition.” There is no mixture of perspectives on the supreme authority of the faith resting upon the shoulders of the Bishops. There is no ECF that appeal to Scripture as the “highest” authority. To the men of the early Church, Jesus was the highest authority and his chosen representatives, the Bishops, shouldered His divine authority.

    Your final argument about Polycarp is a strawman. The Roman Catholic Church does not appeal to Tradition apart from Scripture. You may argue that this doctrine or that doctrine is “unbiblical”, but the fact remains that all doctrines of the Catholic Faith are sourced in Sacred Tradition and Scripture. I get that you don’t agree with the interpretation of Scripture, but the Church doesn’t cite dogma without it. Scripture and Tradition are integrated and grow from each other. I have no doubt that St. Polycarp believed the letters in our new testament were sacred scripture. This is not in dispute. But, what St. Polycarp, St. Ignatius and Pope St. Clement argued was that nothing was to be done outside the authority of the Bishops appointed by the apostles and their successors. No amount of appeal to scripture justified rebellion or schism. Your appeal to William Webster as an authority is superfluous. I’m sure he’s a nice man but he is not a serious or significant bible scholar or historian, just a fellow traveler with whom you happen to agree.

    I have no major dispute with your first paragraph on St. Irenaeus. He cites scripture, but you miss a major point in what he wrote. He says: ““We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures…”10 Notice he says that the Gospel was first “proclaimed in public, and, at a later period…handed down to us in Scpriture”? Is this not in direct contradiction to your claims? The preaching and Traditions of Christ were first preached orally and “at a later period” turned into scripture. The earliest Gospel (Mark), was at its earliest, written in AD66. That’s 33 years of traditional oral teaching of the apostles and their successors. This is no small matter. Its show that Tradition come first from Christ, then to the apostles, then to us, orally. This is certainly a secondary point, but an interesting one, none-the-less. You take your argument to an illogical conclusion: “Irenaeus effectively argued that the Scriptures are the greatest and final authority for the church in all her life of piety and doctrine.” He does not argue this at all. He is using a rhetorical device in the Greek to harken back to St. Paul’s words: Equating the Church to the Scriptures. St. Paul calls the Church the pillar and bulwark of Truth and St. Irenaeus builds on it to explain where the Scriptures come from; the apostolic Church.

    I have no disagreement with your points that St. Irenaeus believed the four Gospels to be canonical. This is not in dispute. But again, you take St. Irenaeus’ point about Tradition to a destination far beyond the text. You state: “that tradition which originates from the apostles – the New Testament writings themselves, whose reading, copying, and preaching was faithfully preserved in the same urban churches that the Magisterial apostles founded.” The Tradition of the Apostles is far more than Sacred Scripture. St. Irenaeus did not claim Scripture was the Tradition of the Apostles. It’s just not in his writings and it is an illogical claim: There is no need for the ECF to say “tradition” when they really mean to say “scripture”. The words in Greek for tradition and scripture are completely unrelated: παράδοση (parádosi), tradition, verses γραφή, (grafí), scripture. One is a specifically oral concept and the other not. The ECF cite and use them differently. You quote Book III of Against Heresies, but at the very beginning of Book I we see something very different than what you describe to support your claim:

    “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 [the preaching]. She also believes these points 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 (parádosi) 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 shineth 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 (parádosi). 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.”11

    St. Irenaeus is not talking about Scripture. He is appealing to Sacred Tradition. He doesn’t even mention Scripture in the passage. In fact, he completely contradicts your claim that Scripture is the sole rule of faith: “On this account are we bound to avoid them, but to make choice of the things pertaining to the Church with the utmost diligence, and to lay hold of the tradition (parádosi) of the truth. For how stands the case? 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?”12 There is no discounting the importance of Sacred Scripture, but here St. Irenaeus is clearly arguing for the importance of Sacred Tradition in buttressing the faith as a source to sort our disputes, even a dispute about the Scriptures! Heretics of his time were using the scriptures to argue against the Faith and so, St. Irenaeus is pressing for the use of Tradition to defeat the heresy.

    Your argument is weakest in this claim: “But the greatest evidence of the Gnostic sect being outside the orthodox and catholic church is in how they contradicted the Scriptures. Once again, Irenaeus said of them “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…””. I do not assert that the Scriptures have no authority, only that they have authority within the context of a teaching authority of the Magisterium, the Bishops. I am assuming you have read the entire book, but the point St. Irenaeus is making is exactly the opposite with which you are claiming. He is saying that because Sacred Scripture is used by heretics to refute the true faith, we must rely upon apostolic authority and Sacred Tradition to combat the misuse and misinterpretation of Scripture. With respect, this is why the Church and those who have separated from her cannot often rely upon the Bible to sort out our disagreements. And this is exactly St. Irenaeus’ point! We must fall back on the apostolic authority and Sacred Tradition of the Faith to combat heresy as he says: “It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about.”13 You write: “Key to remember here is that Irenaeus nowhere appeals to an unwritten, co-authoritative tradition which could act as a source of doctrine in the churches.” The quotes above contradict your claim that “Irenaeus nowhere appeals to an unwritten…tradition.” He does, dozens of times. It’s the word parádosi, over and over.

    If you were as tired as I am at this point, I can understand why you give a cursory overview of Tertullian. But, let’s give it a go! We must remember that Tertullian was a Christian for a while and eventually became a Montanist. This doesn’t discount your points, but it should color the commentary going forward for his later writings, none of which I will quote. I’m not sure why you select Tertullian because he is obviously in disagreement with several of your earlier points: “For it is evident that those men lived not so long ago,—in the reign of Antoninus, for the most part,—and that they at first were believers in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in the church of Rome under the episcopate of the blessed Eleutherus, until on account of their ever restless curiosity, with which they even infected the brethren, they were more than once expelled.”14

    If you can marshal Tertullian for this current point, can we use him to defeat your points on apostolic succession and the Primacy of Rome? He sees Rome as special and the Bishop of Rome as “blessed.” If you read the rest of his writings you’d come to this passage: “They [Apostles] then in like manner founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic [My note: This is critical. Apostolic does not mean just carrying the tradition of faith.], as being the offspring of apostolic churches. Every sort of thing must necessarily revert to its original for its classification. Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, (founded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring). In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, whilst they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality,—privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery.”15 This is in AD200 and not a controversial opinion either. There was one Church in AD200, and it wasn’t Calvin’s. This aside, let us examine your argument.

    Marshalling Tertullian against tradition tells me you haven’t read much Tertullian. He has an entire chapter called “CHAP. XXI.—ALL DOCTRINE TRUE WHICH COMES THROUGH THE CHURCH FROM THE APOSTLES, WHO WERE TAUGHT BY GOD THROUGH CHRIST. ALL OPINION WHICH HAS NO SUCH DIVINE ORIGIN AND APOSTOLIC TRADITION TO SHOW, IS IPSO FACTO FALSE”16 This doesn’t sound like a Calvinist at all. My guess is, you’ve pulled a single quote (from Webster?) and constructed an argument around it that Tertullian didn’t make. He was addressing specific heretics who were claiming secret knowledge and he appealed to Sacred Tradition dozens upon dozens of times; an appeal to a public Tradition preached by the Catholic Church. This very chapter completely upends your denial of apostolic succession: “From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for “no man knoweth the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him.” Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles, whom He sent forth to preach—that, of course, which He revealed to them.”17 If you are receiving teaching from someone outside apostolic succession, Tertullian is not very happy about it!

    Sacred Tradition is a primary argument of Tertullian as he expands upon the previous chapter: “It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth.”18 He is literally talking about traditional doctrine, not scripture. They should intertwine, and he is equating them. Tertullian may have died outside the Catholic Church, but he was never a Calvinist.

    The sum of your argument about tradition is your statement: “What was the tradition being passed down from bishop to bishop in the Church at Rome in the second century? It was the writings of the apostles, accepted, preached, and believed among the churches.” This statement is correct only for the second century on. But Irenaeus isn’t talking about his century. He’s making an argument that Tradition has been passed on since the time of Christ: “inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.” Scripture is the child of the accepted preached and written Tradition of the Apostles. Traditions first, Scriptures second. This is historical fact.

    In essence you claim, when the ECF say tradition, parádosi, they really mean grafí. The argument you make fails on several points. First, the authors choose their words carefully. They don’t accidentally write parádosi (literally, handed down) when they really mean grafí (written words). These were learned men, men of precision and men who were transmitting the most important information ever obtained by man. There is no room for imprecision here, and the ECF knew it. The second point is that scripture comes from tradition. For roughly 60 years, from the birth of Christ to the writing of St. Paul’s letter to the Romans and Galatians, there was no New Testiment. There was no written gospel until Mark in, at the earliest, AD66. To what did these very first Christians turn to? Not scripture; but tradition taught by those appointed by Christ or the Apostles and their successors. From tradition grew the New Testament, a written Gospel to be used in combination with this earlier Sacred Tradition.

    You call the Catholic Church the husk of the Church in the 2nd century. I’ve read you call the Bride of Christ a “bloated corpse”. Quite the contrary, the Catholic Church bears the light of Christ to the world still today. With its unbroken line of apostolic succession, orthodox Tradition and Scripture, the Catholic Church continues to win souls to Christ. You cite Revelation in a last ditch attempt to say Christ has taken away the lamp stand from His body and bride, the Catholic Church. I will leave you with a quote from Tertullian: “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 stedfast 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.”

    I ask you, reader, from what Bishop does John Calvin inherit his apostolic heritage? If you follow his teachings, from what Bishop does he gain his authority? Has he appointed himself arbiter of the Faith? Mr. Esposito, you ask the question that sounds as if it is from the Spirit Himself. As Pontius Pilot asked of Christ: What is Truth? The answer was standing in front of him. You ask, “Should we all repent of our Protestantism, walk into the nearest confessional booth, and begin praying the Hail Mary?” Aside from the fact Catholics don’t pray a Hail Mary in the confessional booth, yes, you should confess and repent of Calvinism. On this day celebrating the great revolt, the reformation, the Church stands waiting for all to return to His fold. Unity is demanded by Christ and the Early Church Fathers. Bishop Ignatius implores you: “He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, “God resisteth the proud.” Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.”19 Are you subject to a Bishop in the line of apostolic succession, appointed by Christ and shepherding His flock, or have you chosen to follow the teaching of some other self-appointed leader? Time is short. Come home.

    1 Athanasius of Alexandria. (1892). On the Incarnation of the Word. In P. Schaff & H. Wace (Eds.), A. T. Robertson (Trans.), St. Athanasius: Select Works and Letters (Vol. 4, p. 47). New York: Christian Literature Company.

    2 Clement of Rome. (1885). The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 15). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    3 Ignatius of Antioch. (1885). The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, pp. 64–65). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    4 Ignatius of Antioch. (1885). The Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 61). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    5 Clement of Rome. (1885). The First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 16). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    6 Ignatius of Antioch. (1885). The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 67). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    7 Clement of Alexandria. (1885). Who Is the Rich Man that Shall Be Saved? In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), W. Wilson (Trans.), Fathers of the Second Century: Hermas, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus, and Clement of Alexandria (Entire) (Vol. 2, p. 597). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    8 Tatian. (1897). The Diatessaron of Tatian. In A. Menzies (Ed.), H. W. Hogg (Trans.), The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgil and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement (Complete Text), Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I-X, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, II, and X-XIV (Vol. 9, pp. 79–80). New York: Christian Literature Company.

    9 Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, pp. 415–416). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    10 Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 331). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    11 Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 417). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    12 Irenaeus of Lyons. (1885). Irenæus against Heresies. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 415). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    13 Tertullian. (1885). The Prescription against Heretics. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, p. 257). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    14 Tertullian. (1885). The Prescription against Heretics. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, p. 252). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    15 Tertullian. (1885). The Prescription against Heretics. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, p. 252). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    16Tertullian. (1885). The Prescription against Heretics. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, p. 252). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    17 Tertullian. (1885). The Prescription against Heretics. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, pp. 252–253). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    18 Tertullian. (1885). The Prescription against Heretics. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), P. Holmes (Trans.), Latin Christianity: Its Founder, Tertullian (Vol. 3, p. 258). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    19 Ignatius of Antioch. (1885). The Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians. In A. Roberts, J. Donaldson, & A. C. Coxe (Eds.), The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (Vol. 1, p. 51). Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company.

    • Thank you for taking the time to respond in this manner. Upon my first (scan) reading, I can see numerous issues of clarity between us on terms/definitions, emphasis, and presuppositional framework. I want to respond at length, I really do – you are worth it to me, and I respect you. I just cannot promise a time frame that it will happen; not to mention, Abraham is going to respond, and I do want to address him first if you don’t mind.

      If I may for the mean time ask, have you read any Reformation literature and/or theological works? If so, whom, and when?

      Yours,
      Adam

    • So I just spent an hour+ trying to go point by point in response to your response. Then I deleted the entire thing. I realized my responses were sounding like a cowboy grabbing his guns, shooting from the hip just to shoot.

      I will just let our respective posts stand and speak for themselves, apart from this brief comment:

      You and I are doing exactly what I said we’re doing: interpreting our respective authorities by the authority therein. You’re making an extended argument for the ultimate authority of the Church because of the authority and teaching of the Church. I’m making an extended argument for the ultimate authority of God’s Word because of the authority and revelation of God.

      That’s how I see it, and I don’t have the desire to write a book here in order to explicate further.

      Thank you for your reply.

  2. Hello Adam,

    Thanks for the reply. Of course, respond at your leisure. I did not write my response expecting you to spend time responding as I am sure you have other topics you’d prefer to cover in your blogs. No hurry at all.

    Yes, I have read some Reformation literature. If you are referencing the writings of Calvin and Luther, I have read Luther’s “The Jews and Their Lies”, 95 T, and “On Christian Liberty.” I believe I’ve read summaries and commentaries on all of his works. For Calvin, “Institutes” and countless commentaries on his writings. As to when? I’ve been studying theology for many years so I can’t tell you a date, but I have both read these particular works completely, and various parts of them many times over. I find the writings of these men interesting pieces of historical theology.

    I have also read and have some familiarity with Knox, Hooker, Wesley and most of all Kierkegaard (not really the same type, but relevant). The other prominent Christian/Non-Catholic theologians you could name, I’d have a basic understanding of but not a detailed knowledge. Of course, my main focus is Catholic theologians, but primarily, the writings of the ECF.

    Have you read “An Essay on the Development of Doctrine”?

    In Christ,
    Murray

  3. Thank you Adam for the time you have taken to write this and initiate a dialogue about this matter, I truly appreciate it. It shows that you are open minded and willing to always question your position in order to objectively find your path to the truth wherever it may lead.
    I apologize for the delay in my response, and I would like to also remind you that I am not an experienced apologist and English is my second language so forgive me if at times you find my explanations disjointed.
    I have also read Mr. Murrays response and I thought it was really well written and convincing and I’m not sure if my response can shed anymore light or provide a more convincing rebuttal, but I feel compelled to write my own response even if it only serves to strengthen my convictions about the Catholic Church, but I hope it can help you reconsider your position regarding the Church.

    I have chosen to write my response as a point by point reply to points you have raised.
    In response to: “What’s his point? He’s arguing that the early church lived and survived on the word of the Church – you see that? When he asks “how did Christians worship for the first 400 yrs?” he is implying the Bible was not the regula fidei (measure of the faith) for corporate Christian life. The people of God apparently depended completely, or nearly completely upon the pronouncements and teachings of the Church in Rome, if I’m hearing Abraham correctly. Where was the New Testament before 400AD? I guess we’d have to let Abraham tell us what he thinks.”

    Because of the limited characters on twitter I might not have clearly represented my position.
    The early Christians did have the books of the New Testament among them but there was no agreement in the Christian community of which books were inspired by God, many books initially thought to be inspired were later not included in the New Testament such as the seven letters of Ignatius, the letter of clement to the Corinthians, the Didache, The Shepherd of Hermas… what is the reason they are not in the New Testament? And who had the authority to define what the New Testament should include? That’s where the council of Hippo and Carthage come into play.

    The Canon of the Bible was clearly not agreed upon in the first century of the church, does that mean that there were no Christians since according to many protestants ‘sola scriptura’ is all that’s needed.

    So in conclusion for this point, the New Testament books existed in the first century but the early Christians did not know what the New Testament in its current form is, hence the importance of the Church outweighed the importance of scripture.

    You move on to say: “No – creation only reflects God in a general way. We need Him to speak to us directly for us to know what creation is, and who He is. In the same way, the church (like the mountain) can tell us a great deal about how to understand Scripture, but the church is the creation of Scripture, not the other way around. We need the voice of the Creator (Scripture) to tell us what His creation (the church) is. Make sure you understood what I just said before you read further.”

    Referring to what I previously stated above, Although the written scripture dates back to the first century the New Testament in its current form does not, and was only clearly defined to include its current 27 books at the end of the 4th century. So who defined what scripture is? Was it scripture itself? Or was it the Church? In addition Jesus never talked about leaving behind an inspired book as his legacy for us to read and interpret, most Christians never even owned a Bible until the printing press was invented in the 15th century. But he did talk about establishing a Church, Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18 “You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not prevail against It” meaning that the church will exist from the time of Jesus till his return. Note that Jesus’ main objective was to establish a Church. If it was to deliver a Holy text that would be sufficient for people to know Him, and be true Christians wouldn’t he have mentioned it to his disciples?

    I also would like to point out that scripture itself is not a “Creator”. Only God and His Word, Jesus, is the Creator, the Church is his creation (I agree) to spread His Word across the nations, using inspired scripture among other tools.

    In response to your interpretation of Cyprians quote in which you said: “the true nature of the church cannot be known by shuffling through church history to find individuals defining her, such as with Cyprian here. Although his testimony is very important in shedding light on what men in his generation believed about the church, it says little about what Scripture reveals and defines – and we can all agree that the first-century church gets the final say, right? Sadly, by the third century and beyond, men had taken the “what is” of second-century fathers (i.e. the Roman Church “is” presently the most eminent, faithful of the apostolic sees), and mistakenly traded it for an “ought” – that is, that Jesus meant to establish an eternal headquarters for His church in the city of Rome, and that organization is 1:1 with the church of the redeemed.”

    I have to disagree with your assessment of Cyprian of Carthage’s statement. He is clearly stating that you can’t desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built and still be confident that you are in the Church. He goes on to say “A primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one chair”. You are free to disagree with Cyprian, but I don’t think it’s fair to misinterpret him as saying that the Roman Church is currently the most faithful Church but has no primacy or divine authority over the Church as a whole.

    And it’s not only Cyprian that holds that view, which was only one of the examples. This is another quote by Irenaeus in the mid 2nd century 60 years before Cyprian.

    Irenaeus
    But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the succession of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles. Peter and Paul, that church which has the tradition and the faith which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world, and it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition (Against Heresies 3:3:2 [A.D. 189]).

    This quote alone is strong enough to refute most of protestant claims about the Catholic Church.
    Note “The successions of the Bishops” and “With that church, because of its superior origin, all the churches must agree”. Doesn’t that sound like an authoritative physical Church based in Rome? If not then why should all the Churches agree with it?

    You went on to bring up Polycarp and used him to claim that the new testaments books were always know to be scripture in their current form.
    There are hardly any surviving writings from Polycarp himself, but we can still find some such as this
    “The church of God that sojourns at Smyrna, to the church of God sojourning in Philomelium – and to all of the congregations of the holy and Catholic Church in every place.” St. Polycarp
    It’s clear from this quote that Polycarp believed in one Church that has a common teaching, not thousands of denominations which can each interpret the Bible according to their own understanding.

    We can learn even more from Polycarp by reading what his disciple Irenaeus had to say, who no doubt was taught the faith by Polycarp himself.

    “But since it would take too long to set out here the successions of all the churches, we shall turn to that great, ancient and universally known church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles Peter and Paul, and we shall show that the tradition it has received of the apostles and the faith that it preaches to men has come down to our time through the regular succession of its bishops; and thus we shall confute all those who, in whatever way, whether by self-complacency, vainglory, blindness or error, enter into unauthorized assemblies. For it is with this Roman church, by reason of its more powerful pre-eminence that every other church, that is to say all the faithful everywhere, ought to agree, inasmuch as in this church the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by those who come from everywhere.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

    “The blessed Apostles, then, founded and built up the church in Rome. They committed the office of bishop into the hands of Linus. Of this, Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus. After him, in the third place from the Apostles, Clement was allotted the office of bishop.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

    It’s clear from these quotes that Irenaeus was aware of the Primacy of the Catholic Church as well as apostolic succession.

    Besides Polycarp, another one of Apostle John’s disciples, St. Ignatius in his Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, wrote:

    “Wherever the bishop appears, let the congregation be there also. Just as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would look upon the Lord Himself, standing, as he does, before the Lord. As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Be ye subject to the bishop as to the Lord, for ‘he watches for your souls, as one that shall give account to God.’ In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrin of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. He who honors the bishop has been honored by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil. Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. Be ye subject to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons.” St. Ignatius of Antiochc. 105 A.D.

    “In like manner, let us reverence the deacons as Jesus Christ, and the bishop as the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrin of God and college of the apostles. Without these, there is no Church (St. Ignatius (of Antioch) to the Trallians 1:8,9).

    I think its self evident that what he wrote is pointing towards an organized Church that relies on a hierarchy. Also note “as being an institution of God”.
    Do Protestants reverence the bishops as Jesus? This quote is pretty clearly stating that the Church does not only depend upon Holy Scripture but also a hierarchy of Priests and Bishops without which the Church cannot exist! This is from the writings of St. Ignatius himself.

    You brought up Irenaeus’ quote: “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith.”
    And you interpret it as “Irenaeus calls the New Testament writings “Scriptures,” and like Polycarp, he did so hundreds of years before any council was called.”
    There was no agreement of what the New Testament comprised of at that time; Irenaeus wasn’t calling The New Testament as a whole scripture, again where can you find the New Testament defined by its 27 current books before the council of Hippo and Carthage?

    You move on to say that they could know which Gospels were canonical and genuine by general knowledge of previous centuries among the churches who had known that these writings were inspired because they knew the companions o the apostles.
    It’s important to note that not everything written by the apostles is inspired and on the level of scripture, example: Apocalypse of Peter (Who many at the time thought was inspired and was part of scripture). Who had the authority to exclude it from the New Testament?

    You later bring up a quote by Irenaeus stating “when we refer [the Gnostics] 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…” and you interpret the tradition as being the new testament writings ignoring the fact that Irenaeus didn’t specify if the tradition which originates from the apostles is written or oral, so it would be fallacious to say that he was referring to the New Testament writings.

    In response to:
    “We need to agree with the apostolical [sic] tradition that existed in 175AD – that very message and truth of the apostles derived from the pillar and ground of our faith, the Scriptures. Here’s the issue with Irenaeus’s words above: we in 2016 have access to the exact same apostolic tradition they had, via the New Testament. What was the tradition being passed down from bishop to bishop in the Church at Rome in the second century? It was the writings of the apostles, accepted, preached, and believed among the churches. There is no evidence in this passage of a non-written, authoritative tradition among these men that would be secretly passed down like some esoteric password. Irenaeus demonstrated the succession of Roman bishops at his time in order to contrast with the Gnostics, who had no connection with the apostles, their churches, nor their doctrines.”
    If there was a succession of Roman Bishops then for what reason would they decide to stop this succession? Where the bishops only of use for the first 2 centuries?
    And the tradition was not passed on as a secret, it was known to the public
    Ignatius of Antioch
    “You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8:1 [A.D. 110]).

    Note “Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints.”

    In this quote Ignatius is talking about the Holy sacrament of Eucharist. He is saying it’s only valid if it is celebrated by the Bishop OR by one whom HE APPOINTS.
    This is very important and a clear sign of apostolic succession. If a Bishop is capable of appointing a person to fulfill the apostolic duties then there is no reason for a cessation of the succession, there will always be a line that connects the first apostles to the bishops and those whom they have appointed.

    This is another quote by Irenaeus:

    Irenaeus

    It is possible, then, for everyone in every Church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles, and their successors to our own times: men who neither knew nor taught anything like these heretics rave about. For if the Apostles had known hidden mysteries which they taught to the elite secretly and apart from the rest, they would have handed them down especially to those very ones to whom they were committing the self-same Churches. For surely they wished all those and their successors to be perfect and without reproach, to whom they handed on their authority (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).

    I want to focus in on the last sentence “. For surely they wished all those and their successors to be perfect and without reproach, to whom they handed on their authority”

    Irenaeus here is also talking about the apostolic succession, and the successors of the apostles. In addition he points out that the Apostles have handed on their authority to those which they have appointed, so we can infer that the Bishops and those whom they have appointed had a special authority which has been handed down to them through the ages by apostolic succession.

    In response to: “Irenaeus shows us that as of the late second century, the church at Rome was the most recognizable remnant of the apostolic age, and that in her teachers was found the reflection of fidelity to the apostolic writings. Key to remember here is that Irenaeus nowhere appeals to an unwritten, co-authoritative tradition which could act as a source of doctrine in the churches. This is the central claim of medieval and modern Romanism, and it is flatly contradicted by the words of Irenaeus, who named the New Testament as the pillar and ground of the church, rather than the other way around. Plenty more could be brought forth from Irenaeus on this issue, but I will leave it at this for now.”
    As Paul tells us: “hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
    Here The Apostle Paul himself states that there is an unwritten oral tradition that is on the level of scripture.

    Two quotes by Irenaeus
    The Universal [Catholic] Church, moreover, through the whole world, has received this tradition from the Apostles (Against Heresies 2:9 [A.D. 189]).
    “When we refer them to that tradition which originates from the Apostles, 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 than even the Apostles.” St. Irenaeus, “Against All Heresies,” c. 180 A.D.

    St. Irenaeus clearly believed in a tradition that has originated and been passed down by the Apostles, and that we should refer to them.

    I would also like to bring up a few other topics regarding the early Church fathers which you did not touch on which have always been beliefs and practices of the Church but which most protestant sects reject and don’t observe.
    I will lay them out with no additional commentary because I feel that their meaning is clear enough and self evident.
    The Eucharist (and the Real Presence of Jesus’ Body and Blood):

    Ignatius of Antioch

    Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2-7:1 [A.D. 110]).

    Irenaeus

    He has declared the cup, a part of creation, to be his own blood) from which he causes our blood to flow; and the bread, a part of creation, he has established as his own body, from which he gives increase unto our bodies. When, therefore, the mixed cup [wine and water] and the baked bread receive the Word of God and become the Eucharist, the body of Christ, and from these the substance of our flesh is increased and supported) how can they say that the flesh is not capable of receiving the gift of God, which is eternal life — flesh which is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord and is in fact a member of him? (Against Heresies 5:2 [A.D. 189]).

    Cyril of Jerusalem

    The bread and the wine of the Eucharist before the holy invocation of the adorable Trinity were simple bread and wine, but the invocation having been made, the bread becomes the body of Christ and the wine the blood of Christ (Catechetical Lectures 19:7 [A.D. 350]).
    Do not, therefore, regard the bread and wine as simply that, for they are, according to the Master’s declaration, the body and blood of Christ. Even though the senses suggest to you the other, let faith make you firm. Do not judge in this matter by taste, but be fully assured by faith, not doubting that you have been deemed worthy of the body and blood of Christ. . . [Since you are] fully convinced that the apparent bread is not bread, even though it is sensible to the taste, but the body of Christ, and that the apparent wine is not wine, even though the taste would have it so. . . partake of that bread as something spiritual, and put a cheerful face on your soul (ibid„ 22:6,9).

    Augustine

    I promised you [new Christians], who have now been baptized, a sermon in which I would explain the sacrament of the Lord’s table, which you now look upon and of which you last night were made participants. You ought to know that you have received what you are going to receive, and what you ought to receive daily. That bread which you see on the altar having been sanctified by the word of God is the body of Christ, That chalice, or rather, what is in that chalice, having been sanctified by the word of God, is the blood of Christ (Sermons 227 [A.D. 411]).
    What you see is the bread and the chalice, that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice is the blood of Christ. This has been said very briefly, which may perhaps be sufficient for faith, yet faith does not desire instruction (ibid. 272).

    Confession:
    John 20:21-23: 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father sent me, so I send you.” 22 Then he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive people’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

    The Didache

    Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience. This is the way of life. . . , On the Lord’s Day gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure (Didache 4:14,14:1 [A.D.70]).

    Irenaeus

    [The Gnostic disciples of Marcus] have deluded many women. . . Their consciences have been branded as with a hot iron. Some of these women make a public confession, but others are ashamed to do this, and in silence, as if withdrawing from themselves the hope of life of God, they either apostatize entirely or hesitate between two courses (Against Heresies 1:22 [A.D. 189]).

    Tertullian

    [Regarding confession, some] flee from this work as being an exposure of themselves, or they put it off from day to day. I presume they are more mindful of modesty than of salvation, like those who contract a disease in the more shameful parts of the body and shun making themselves known to the physicians; and thus they perish along with their own bashfulness (Repentance 10:1 [A.D. 203]).
    The Church has the power of forgiving sins. This I acknowledge and adjudge (ibid. 21).

    John Chrysostom

    Priests have received a power which God has given neither to angels nor to archangels. It was said to them: “Whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose, shall be loosed.” Temporal rulers have indeed the power of binding: but they can only bind the body. Priests, in contrast, can bind with a bond which pertains to the soul itself and transcends the very heavens. Did [God] not give them all the powers of heaven? “Whose sins you shall forgive,” he says, “they are forgiven them; whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” The Father has given all judgment to the Son. And now I see the Son placing all this power in the hands of men [Matt. 10:40; John 20:21-23]. They are raised to this dignity as if they were already gathered up to heaven (The Priesthood 3:5 [A.D. 387]).

    Baptism (for infants):

    Irenaeus

    He [Jesus] came to save all through himself – all, I say, who through him are reborn in God; infants, and children, and youths, and old men. Therefore he passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, sanctifying infants; a child for children, sanctifying those who are of that age . . . [so that] he might be the perfect teacher in all things, perfect not only in respect to the setting forth of truth, perfect also in respect to relative age (Against Heresies 2:22:4 [A.D. 189]).

    St. Cyprian of Carthage

    “In respect of the case of infants, you say that they should not be baptized within the second or third day after their birth – that the law of circumcision should be regarded. So you think that one who has just been born should not be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day. However, we all thought very differently in our council…. Rather, we all believe that the mercy and grace of God is not to be refused to anyone born of man…. As far as we can, we must strive that no soul be lost, if at all possible. For what is lacking to him who has once been formed in the womb by the hand of God?” “Epistle 58,” c. 250 A.D.

    I hope that my responses were clear enough to understand and moreover that they can serve as food for thought if nothing more.
    If you would like me to source any specific quote I would be pleased to do so.
    I hope you have a great day by the Grace of God,
    Abraham,

    • Thanks Abraham. I will not be responding – see my above comment to M Fullerton. Thank you for your reply – I hope visitors to this blog find our exchange useful.

      [Edit] I mean I will not be responding at this time. If I can spend the requisite time and energy to write a book in response to you two, I will do so.

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