Saturday, October 31, 2009

"Catholic But Not Roman Catholic" series: Introduction

Note: The following is the introduction from a study by a Research Analyst for NTRMin named Jason Engwer, who posted a series on the NTRMin Discussion Board called "Catholic But Not Roman Catholic" which studies different theological areas taught by the Early Church Fathers and compares them to the teachings of Roman Catholicism. I found it very helpful so I'm posting parts of it so others can read it.

Catholic But Not Roman Catholic: Introduction
Evangelicals and Catholics have radically different views of church history. Evangelicals believe that a revelation was given to us by God through the apostles, and that each generation since that time is responsible for following that revelation. Some people are more faithful than others in doing so. We view the church fathers as people who taught a combination of truth and error that doesn't completely align with any modern belief system. The evangelical view of church history is similar to what we read about in 2 Kings 22:8-13, where the original revelation is what must be followed, even if our forefathers failed to do so. Catholics, on the other hand, believe that there's been one worldwide denomination centered in Rome since the time of the apostles. They believe that the church fathers were members of that denomination, and that all of the teachings of the apostles were passed on in an unbroken succession.

I've decided to begin a new series of posts titled "Catholic, But Not Roman Catholic". What I want to do is post, daily, a quote of a church father contradicting Roman Catholic teaching or disagreeing with a popular argument used by Roman Catholic apologists. Sometimes I'll include some explanatory comments with the quote, if I think it's appropriate, and other times I won't. I may miss a day here or there because of being sick, being away from home, etc., but I'll try to post a quote every day. If anybody has any ideas for a quote, or wants to send me a quote, you can e-mail me at When I include a quote somebody else has sent me, I'll give that person credit for it. You can also e-mail me, or post a response here, if you have any reasonable objections to the quote I've posted. I would expect the large majority of the quotes to be clear examples of the church fathers contradicting modern Roman Catholic beliefs. But I'm fallible, and even when I'm not wrong! to include a quote, I may still be unclear about why I included it. I'm willing to consider any reasonable criticisms. Let me give an example.

Let's say that I post a quote of a church father referring to Mary as a sinner. Here are some examples of unreasonable objections:

Quoting some other church father referring to Mary as sinless. Evangelicals believe that the church fathers held a wide variety of beliefs, so we don't expect as much consistency as the Catholic view of church history would require. Catholics believe that there was one worldwide denomination that taught the same things the apostles taught in an unbroken succession. If church father A denied that Mary was sinless, while church father B said that she was sinless, that's supportive of the evangelical view of church history, not the Roman Catholic view. Quoting what some other church father said isn't enough to validate the Roman Catholic view of church history.
Quoting the church father saying elsewhere that Mary is a Second Eve. You can view Mary as a Second Eve and a sinner at the same time. Just because modern Roman Catholics view the Second Eve concept as involving sinlessness, that doesn't mean the church father in question did.
Claiming that the church fathers were allowed to disagree with modern Catholic teaching at that time, since no infallible ruling had been made on the issue yet. By that reasoning, we would conclude that Christians could believe anything during the first 300 years of church history, since there was no infallible papal decree or ecumenical council during that time. If apostolic teaching was being passed down in an unbroken succession, there isn't any reason to expect any bishop, much less a large number of bishops, to be ignorant of it, regardless of whether any allegedly infallible ruling had been passed on the subject. Saying that people had freedom to disagree with the RCC at that time doesn't change the fact that the doctrine is being contradicted, and that it should have been known across the Christian world if it was one of the apostolic teachings being passed down in the presence of many witnesses (2 Timothy 2:2).
So, if any Catholic wants to object to my quotes, I'm going to expect the objection to be reasonable. If I quote John Chrysostom referring to Mary as a sinner, I don't consider it reasonable for a Catholic to respond by saying, "Here's what Augustine said...", "Here's John Chrysostom referring to Mary as a Second Eve...", "John Chrysostom was allowed to disagree with the doctrine at that time, since no infallible ruling had been passed yet...", etc. If the RCC is going to claim to be fulfilling 2 Timothy 2:2 in an unbroken succession, and Pope Pius IX is going to claim that the sinlessness of Mary was always taught and believed by the Christian church, then Catholic objections to a quote from John Chrysostom aren't valid if they're like the objections I've described above.

In closing, I want to explain some of the reasons why I'm calling this series "Catholic, But Not Roman Catholic":

I often see Catholics quoting somebody like Ignatius using the word "catholic", as though the term can only mean "Roman Catholic". Obviously, "catholic" and "Roman Catholic" aren't equivalent. Just as people like Chuck Colson and Hank Hanegraaff will refer to "the church" believing such and such or how "the church" should do something, that sort of terminology was also used by the church fathers. To quote somebody like Cyprian or Athanasius referring to "the church", then assume that he must have believed in a worldwide denomination centered in Rome, is about as reasonable as doing the same thing with somebody like Chuck Colson or Hank Hanegraaff. People can refer to "the church", "the catholic church", "the authority of the church", etc. without being a Roman Catholic.
Just as the church fathers could disagree with the RCC and with each other on many issues, yet still call themselves and each other "catholic" and part of the "catholic church", evangelicals can do the same.

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