Thursday, April 15, 2010

Patristics: A continuing series


About a year and a half ago I was confronted by a fellow Christian blogger who claimed that the Catholic Church was a corruption of true Christianity. He said that Catholics had added doctrines to the pure message of the Gospel, thus cluttering genuine Christianity with unnecessary teachings and even outright blasphemous beliefs. He asserted that the Catholic Church could really only trace itself back perhaps as far as the 400s, but before that time he assured me that one would find Christians of the first three or four centuries believed and worshiped closer to the way Protestant or Evangelical/Fundamentalist Christians do today. In his mind the early martyrs and those Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire were his spiritual counterparts and coreligionists.

I told him that I too claim the early Church as my own. I insisted that the first few centuries of Christianity were decidedly Catholic not Protestant, and that the Catholic Church can trace itself back in an unbroken chain through the centuries to Christ Himself. I challenged him to examine the historical record with me to see which of us is correct. The materials needed for such an endeavor are readily available online. Many Christian writings from the first three or four centuries A.D. survive to this day, and we need only examine these ancient manuscripts to find out what the early Church truly believed. Together we could discover what the first Christians had to say for themselves about their beliefs.

To this end, I began a series of blog posts designed to examine the writings of the early Christians. Obviously I am not the first to undertake such a task, and I am certainly not the most qualified. I don’t claim that any of these posts are the best writing on this subject, but hopefully they do answer the challenges that are posed by many non-Catholics concerning the history of Catholic doctrine.

The earliest Christian writers are called the “Fathers of the Church.” So what we are studying here is called Patristics – from the Latin pater or “father.” These early Christian Fathers have left behind a written record of their beliefs, and taken as a whole it is a vast treasure trove of information from which we can build an idea of what the early Christians thought and believed on a host of issues and matters of faith. Many of these Christian authors gave their lives for their faith – so we at least owe them an honest read of what they wrote about their faith before we claim them as our forbearers.

After studying what these Church Fathers had to say we can compare their thoughts to the doctrines taught by today’s Christian denominations and come to see which church, if any, can truly claim an authentic relationship with the Apostolic Church.

So far, over the course of a little over a year, I have examined three writers:
Clement of Rome (Part I, II)
Ignatius of Antioch (Part I, II, III, IV, V)
Polycarp of Smyrna (Part I, II, III, IV)

All of these men lived during the First Century A.D. and all of them knew and learned their faith from at least one or more of the Apostles. All three men were leaders of the Church and held the rank of bishop. The links above include everything I have written so far in summarizing their writings and picking up on key themes and doctrines that go toward my thesis that the early Church was in fact “Catholic.” (Also see this brief Introduction)

Having neglected this series on Patristics for several months, I intend to pick up again where I left off and my next post will cover another First Century text…

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