(Continued from page 293)Polycarp mentions Ignatius approvingly - and this supports the claims of Papal Rome?
You write: You brought up mention of the epistle of Polycarp (a disciple and friend of the apostle John) in your e-mail, but I'm surprised that you would, because in chapter 9 of that epistle, Polycarp mentions Ignatius, with whom he was a good friend, as being of the same faith as Paul and the other apostles. In chapter 13, Polycarp tells his readers that by reading the epistles of Ignatius 'ye may be greatly profited; for they treat of faith and patience, and all things that tend to edification in our Lord.'
TCE: Again, we quote the passage in question - THE EPISTLE OF POLYCARP TO THE PHILIPPIANS (CHAPTER 13 - CONCERNING THE TRANSMISSION OF EPISTLES):
Both you and Ignatius wrote to me, that if any one went [from this] into Syria, he should carry your letter with him; which request I will attend to if I find a fitting opportunity, either personally, or through some other acting for me, that your desire may be fulfilled. The Epistles of Ignatius written by him to us, and all the rest [of his Epistles] which we have by us, we have sent to you, as you requested. They are subjoined to this Epistle, and by them ye may be greatly profited; for they treat of faith and patience, and all things that tend to edification in our Lord. Any more certain information you may have obtained respecting both Ignatius himself, and those that were with him, have the goodness to make known to us.
Presumably you made this comment believing that Polycarp agreed with the faith of Ignatius and that both were in agreement with modern Papal Roman Catholic dogma and to try and combat the statement by Frend:
The Gospels and epistles were circulating in Asia, Syria, and Alexandria (less certainly in Rome), and being read and discussed in the Christian synagogues there by about 100. In Polycarp's short letter there is an astonishing amount of direct and indirect quotation from the New Testament: Matthew, Luke, and John, Acts, the letters to the Galatians, Thessalonians, Corinthians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Romans, the Pastorals, 1 Peter particularly, and 1 and 2 John are all used ...
We have also shown that your claims for the Eucharist - with one single exception (and the error of transubstantiation) - are not in agreement with the overall writings of the Early Church Fathers who were mainly in agreement with Biblical teachings with occasional aberrations. No theologian of note would ever build doctrine solely on the post-apostolic writings, and considerable caution is required in the use of these writings. As has been proven by the two examples here (Justin Martyr's apparent support of 'transubstantiation' and Clement's belief in the 'Phoenix bird') some post-apostolic beliefs, particularly on minor issues, are un-Scriptural. Such formulations, which were often the product of philosophical speculation, have ultimately been rejected by the church. This should come as no surprise, for several reasons. Although the Fathers used the Septuagint and the available New Testament writings extensively in teaching, evangelism, and exhortation, they did not direct much effort at comprehensive scriptural analysis and exegesis. Origen made monumental efforts to exegete from his own perspective during the third century but his philosophical meandering seriously flawed his efforts. To any who might claim that we are biased against the quote from Justin Martyr that seems to support the Roman Eucharist we need simply point out that Origen was dis-fellowshipped by Papal Rome as a heretic because of their objections to his work (his doctrine of the soul was plainly errant and he was prone to speculative philosophical theology - through the urging of Emperor Justinian the Council of Constantinople declared his 'Universalism' heretical). Are we to accept only the Church Fathers who agree with us? You seem to think not. Clearly the writers of the ante-Nicene period were not inspired, never mind uniform in their intellectual gifts or academic background. Some, such as Hermas, produced long, ponderous works, which, although respected in their own time, ultimately failed to have any impact on the church's understanding of its faith. Many post-apostolic works were not doctrinal treatises, but simply letters or homilies to discipline and build up the flock. Clement's 'First Letter' has some excellent Biblical teaching - but betrays his mind as a product of his time. How could he easily check out an 'urban legend' of his time? It is so much easier for us to check out what we believe today but, sadly, many still refuse to do so and would rather believe the myths and legends of their organisation. This is why we repeat again and again - only the Bible is infallible and can be proven to be so as we endeavour to show in these pages.
It would be unreasonable to expect the Church Father's works to bear the entire weight of apostolic teaching and subsequent doctrinal development. The principal value of post-apostolic literature is rather that it documents Christian life and thought in the first few centuries. It is in this role that we may utilize it, not to form doctrines, but rather to confirm that teaching now declared to be Biblical and apostolic is in fact Biblical and apostolic. Much skepticism exists today about the historical value of the Gospels and early Christian writings - a cynicism that does not extend to other historical writing of this period. Such a perspective no doubt arises from the potential impact of Christianity's teaching on one's own life. Enormous implications are inescapable once the conclusion is drawn that God intervened in human history in the person of Jesus Christ. Some would prefer to change history rather than change their minds.
For those who accept the evidence of history, honest scholarship dictates that careful attention be paid to the literary and cultural context of the writings of the church fathers. Every effort should be made to avoid approaching such a study with predetermined conclusions. Just as one can prove virtually anything by reading meaning into the Bible, so can one twist early Christian literature to yield conclusions at variance with the truth. We would encourage anyone interested in the development of the Christian faith to read these works for himself and draw careful conclusions. Anything that does not agree in their entirety with the Bible is sure to lead to some confusion and even deception. This body of literature contains some beautifully written prose and elegantly crafted defences of a new and growing religion. For these reasons alone, such an effort would be time well spent, apart from any benefit it might confer as an apologetic for contemporary Christian thought.
Studies of this literature shows that it is impossible for any honest student of the post-apostolic era to construct a broad-based defence of the teachings advanced by the Papal Roman Catholic Church. There is an absolute dearth of support in patristic literature for Papal Rome's doctrines. If we reasonably assume that the Church Fathers touched upon the elements of their faith that they judged to be important, their cumulative silence on key Papal teachings is devastating. There is no evidence that the early church understood itself to be a Papal organization on earth. There is no knowledge of the Roman doctrine of salvation or of 'purgatory' or 'indulgences'. But Hell was a frightening reality, threatening the pagan and motivating the believer to keep the faith. Martyrs died victoriously, confident of immediate conscious bliss in the presence of their Lord. And above all, in the Church Fathers we see Jesus - fully God and fully man, bodily risen, and coming again in full, visible glory as the only mediator between God and men and not one single, solitary mention of Mary as Mediatrix or any 'ix' whatsoever! One can only conclude that the teachings of the popes represent a new religious tradition rather than a continuation of the true gospel carried on by the Fathers.
The peculiar doctrines of Papal Rome can be traced back to deviant forms of Christianity in preceding centuries - for 'there is nothing new under the sun' (Ecclesiastes 1:9). While there is no single heretical movement in the first few centuries that entirely resembles Papal Rome today, one can discern in various unorthodox movements the building blocks of modern-day Papal errors. From the earliest days of apostolic evangelism there were those who, while nominally acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah, rejected the salvation that He freely provided by grace through faith. The Ebionites, a Jewish-Christian sect that arose from the legalistic Jewish opposition to Paul, was one such group. They foreshadowed the popes by emphasizing obedience to the law and hoping by their asceticism to be worthy of God's acceptance. Contemporary Papists continue to struggle under the unbearably heavy burden of adhering not only to every dictate of the laws the popes have added to the Ten Commandments, but to the ever-changing 'truth' promulgated by the organization to which they have submitted in the guise of the latest 'Pope' John Paul II and his heretical (from every viewpoint!) ecumenical band-wagon.
Papal Rome could be charged with being a Gnostic religion, although Papal theology contains little of Gnosticism's primary dogmas, such as its dualistic world-view, according to which flesh is evil and spirit is inherently good. Yet there are numerous Papal beliefs with which the Gnostics would have been comfortable. Their docetic view (the belief that Jesus' physical body was an illusion, as was his crucifixion; that is, Jesus only seemed to have a physical body and to physically die, but in reality he was incorporeal, a pure spirit, and hence could not physically die) of Christ's sacrifice on the cross and subsequent resurrection, while not grounded in the conviction that the flesh is evil, nevertheless is quite similar to some Gnostic speculation. The greatest similarity between the popes and the Gnostics, however, is that their relationship to God is predicated on special knowledge. The Gnostics separated themselves from the lost masses of humanity by virtue of their 'higher knowledge' of God and the spiritual realm. This explains their name, for the Greek word gnosis means 'knowledge.' Knowledge - exclusive, privileged knowledge - is likewise at the heart of the Roman gospel as we can see by examining their 'unique' doctrines, e.g. the Mass (performed for centuries in Latin to keep the masses in the dark about the true nature of this un-Scriptural insult to God).
For the Christian, accurate knowledge of God is important and comes only through the Bible for, as we can easily prove, the 'traditions' of Papal Rome are ludicrously contradictory and often totally pagan in origin. Full intellectual comprehension is impossible without the personal, spiritual intimacy that comes about only by vigorously pursuing holy living under the guidance and empowerment of the Spirit, indwelling the heart of the believer. The distance from the mind to the heart is long indeed for those whose spirit has not been made alive by regeneration so it is foolish to try and glibly reject criticism of - not one or two, or 'a few' - popes who have proved to a man (or occasionally a woman!) that they are utterly and completely distant from the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Papal gospel emphasizes comprehension of God through 'popes' and 'priesthoods' who alone have the gnosis garnered through 'mother church' - yet who have contradicted and confused the truth for 'the mess of potage' that has been Papal Rome for their entire history.
Having searched the Early Church Fathers for the clear references to a 'Roman' Eucharist you claim, we find only one which might be construed to support 'transubstantiation' - a doctrine utterly lacking in the Bible. How can the Roman Mass, called a propitiatory sacrifice in which 'Christ offers himself [perpetually] for the salvation of the entire world... [and] the work of our redemption is accomplished' be the same as the sacrifice described in the Bible as having paid the full penalty for sin upon the cross and on which basis the resurrected Christ 'entered in once into the holy place [heaven], having obtained eternal redemption for us' (Hebrews 9:12). There He is seated at the Father's right hand, our Great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14), representing those He has redeemed, where 'he ever liveth [dies no more] to make intercession for them':
Who needeth not daily, as those [Old Testament] high priests, to offer up sacrifice.., for this he did once, when he offered up himself [on the cross] (Hebrews 7:27).
The Bible states clearly that this was a 'once for all' sacrifice - so how can Papal Roman Catholics believe that the Mass can repeatedly sacrifice this same Christ?
We have briefly described the difference between the Eucharist and the simple Biblical memorial meal instigated by the Lord Jesus Christ and leave Papal Roman Catholics to vainly try and answer the plethora of questions raised.
Do the Church Fathers' beliefs support Rome or 'Fundamentalist' beliefs?
You write: As you can see, there is quite a lot of evidence that the Catholic Church was alive and well from the earliest beginnings of the Christian faith. And I would like to note that many of the writings I have of the Apostolic Fathers are in a book edited by Protestants who had little love for the Catholic Church. The book I have was first printed in the 1800's, at a time when Protestants admitted truthfully that the origin of the Church was Catholic, and before the time of Fundamentalism, which tries to revise History to say otherwise. I would also note that of the early Christian writings, there are none that bear even the slightest resemblance to the beliefs of Fundamentalists of today. There is absolutely no proof of Fundamentalist beliefs existing before the 16th century.
TCE: You have misunderstood the problem. It is easy to show that the apostolic faith existed, even in early Rome, but it was the 'Catholic' (Universal!) faith of the apostles, not that of the Papal Roman Catholic teachings of 324 A.D. onwards, which existed in the first three centuries of the Christian Era, although many of the bishops of Papal Rome (who you would wish to call 'popes') held clear heretical beliefs. Again, the difference between Catholic and Papal Roman Catholic needs to be understood before any credence could be warranted for supposed quotes from Protestants of 'the 1800's' - even if you supplied any - which you haven't! 'Fundamentalists' have never been afraid of the writings of the Apostolic Fathers because our faith is based on the Bible, but it is a fact that the early Church Fathers had already begun to lose sight of the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the error of nomianism is clearly detectable in their writings. Again, this displays the danger of employing uninspired writings as any sort of basis for beliefs. The fact that these great men - who often suffered torture and death for their beliefs - could so quickly lose sight of vital truths from such as the Letters to the Romans and the Galatians makes the importance of every Christian knowing the Word of God for himself even more clear. Unlike Luther, and others of his era, we gained our faith straight from the Bible and did not suffer from having our minds messed up by Roman 'priesthood' training. Luther suffered to the end of his days from the errors which he could not entirely shake off and the contemporary Lutheran church exhibits similar problems - but is still much nearer the truth than Papal Rome has been for 1700 years despite making the mistake of re-aligning itself with the papacy (ref. the recent Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican, 'Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification').
Salvation from the Perspective of the Early Church Fathers
The disputes between Papal Catholicism and Protestantism, as well as amidst the various Protestant traditions themselves, should, if nothing else, cause one to wonder what the earliest Christian communities thought on any subject being contested. What did those who learned their faith directly from the preaching of the Apostles themselves say regarding man's salvation? For this, of course, we turn to the writings of these Early Church Fathers. The earliest Fathers were conversant with the apostles themselves, and therefore were unparalleled in their position to receive extensively accurate instruction in Christian Faith. One such person was an Eastern (Greek) Father, Polycarp of Smyrna (A.D. 69-156). Irenaeus of Lyons (A.D. 130-200) had this to say about Polycarp:
'But Polycarp also was not only instructed by the apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also by the apostles in Asia appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried on earth a very long time ... having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down……' (Against Heresies 3:3; ~A.D. 191).
What exactly did these first Christians believe and teach with regard to salvation? It is important to note that these Christian teachers of antiquity were not attempting to define precise theological points of doctrine; they were more concerned with general concepts, instructions, and admonitions for living the Christian faith in a time of often intense persecution. Therefore we won't find the early Fathers engaged in dissecting a particular Pauline phrase in order to understand the Christian concept of justification. Moreover, such an approach would be foreign to the early Church since it can lead to misconceptions: 'Those who are particular about words, and devote their time to them, miss the point of the whole picture' (Clement of Alexandria, The Stromata, Bk. II, Christian. 1, A.D. 150-215).
Nonetheless, the Fathers of the Church had written on related matters concerning salvation, such as the role of faith and grace, the role of obedience, righteousness, baptism, etc. From these we can at least partly ascertain the mind and thought of the early Christian communities concerning salvation. A common mistake often made is to misrepresent the Fathers by choosing selective quotations that bolster one's own personal beliefs, discarding those that do not. Thanks to the ease with which the Fathers material can now be obtained it is possible for anyone who desires to check out their material to do so.
The Papal Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation depends ultimately upon ourselves, earned by obedience to the law of the church (for example, regular attendance at mass, rosary prayers, fasting, the wearing of medals, crucifixes or scapulars, etc.). In this system God forgives only those who try to atone for their sins through fruits of penance. This whole system exists because Christ's sacrifice on the cross is regarded as insufficient. The Papal Roman Catholic doctrine of justification (how a man becomes justified or perfectly righteous before God) reflects Romanism's complicated system of salvation by works: