Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Do Scholars See Catholicism's Acorn In Early Church History?

In one of his recent responses to me, Dave Armstrong wrote:

"What we assume is what scholars of these issues tell us was the case. We can cite them a million times, but Protestants like Jason will ignore what they say, and the evidence they set forth."

Dave makes many appeals to scholarship in his series, and he repeatedly criticizes me for allegedly neglecting it. As I noted earlier, that criticism ignores a large amount of argumentation and documentation I've provided outside of the article Dave was responding to.

In my earlier response to Dave, I linked to a series of articles on this blog on the subject of Roman Catholicism, most of them written by me. In those articles, I cite many patristic scholars, historians, and other scholars with relevant credentials, including some of the same scholars Dave has cited. I cite them not only referring to the widespread absence of some of Catholicism's beliefs in early church history, but also referring to the widespread contradiction of much of what's taught by Catholicism.

I put together that collection of articles in 2008, the same year I wrote the article Dave recently responded to. Since then, I've read many other articles and books written by scholars who reach similar conclusions.

For example, I'm in the process of reading Joseph Kelly's The Ecumenical Councils Of The Catholic Church (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2009). Kelly is a Roman Catholic historian and a professor of religious studies at John Carroll University. He refers to other Catholic scholars who helped him in the process of researching and editing the book (p. xi). He contrasts the role of the Popes in ecumenical councils today with their involvement in the past (pp. 2, 5), noting, for example, that "The second ecumenical council, Constantinople I, was called in 381, met, decided the issues, and adjourned without informing the pope, Damasus I (366-384), that a council was being held." (p. 5) He contrasts Cardinal Newman's view of doctrinal development with popular belief about that subject in previous generations (p. 3). He refers to a more spiritual view of Jesus' eucharistic presence in early theologians, contrasting it with the views of later theologians who had "a more material understanding of the real presence" (p. 5). He refers to rejection of the papacy during the patristic era in North Africa (pp. 16, 31). In the later patristic centuries, Spanish and Gallic bishops "usually" accepted papal authority (p. 31). Even some bishops in Italy as late as the sixth century "went into schism and were not reconciled to Rome until the seventh century" (p. 54). He interprets canon 6 of Nicaea as a reference to Rome's regional authority in the West (pp. 23-24). Referring to the time of Nicaea, Kelly writes, "Then, as now with the Orthodox churches, the Eastern bishops did not acknowledge any Roman jurisdictional authority over their churches." (p. 24) He refers to the earliest Christians' opposition to the veneration of images (p. 61). Etc.

I don't agree with Kelly on every point. I would sometimes choose my words differently or add qualifications he doesn't include. But views like his are common in modern scholarship, even at Roman Catholic universities.

On some issues, what modern scholarship sees in early church history isn't an acorn that would later develop into the oak of modern Catholicism, but rather something like an apple or mustard seed. Sometimes Catholic beliefs aren't just widely absent in early church history, but even widely contradicted. Even when something like Mary's bodily assumption is absent without being contradicted, nothing in that period of its absence would naturally grow into a belief in her assumption as an acorn naturally grows into an oak. If we continue with the thought of Catholicism as an oak tree, modern scholarship doesn't see early church history as an acorn. And I don't think the evidence suggests it's an acorn either. For more about that scholarship and my own assessment of the evidence, see the collection of articles on Catholicism that I linked earlier.


  1. "The second ecumenical council, Constantinople I, was called in 381, met, decided the issues, and adjourned without informing the pope, Damasus I (366-384), that a council was being held." (p. 5)

    This is rich, and I did not know this.

    Damasus was one of the "criminal popes." He led an armed gang of thugs that killed 137 people (followers of his main rival) in the pursuit of the papacy.

  2. More like "bad seed" than an acorn.

  3. For me, coming into this debate as I have, going back in time to 2008 and what you wrote then:::>

    "....Every major tenet of the Reformation had considerable support in the catholic tradition. That was eminently true of the central Reformation teaching of justification by faith alone….That the ground of our salvation is the unearned favor of God in Christ, and that all we need do to obtain it is to trust that favor – this was the confession of great catholic saints and teachers….Rome’s reactions [to the Protestant reformers] were the doctrinal decrees of the Council of Trent and the Roman Catechism based upon those decrees....".

    I can see why a firestorm came and where the fuel came from for it!

    One thing Jason that is admirable with any Truth sought soul is Truth always stirs up trouble in the world that just won't quit:::>

    Mat 10:32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven,
    Mat 10:33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
    Mat 10:34 "Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
    Mat 10:35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.
    Mat 10:36 And a person's enemies will be those of his own household.

    I guess if that wasn't hot enough for you then possibly this will be, or not?

    Luk 12:49 "I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled!
    Luk 12:50 I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!
    Luk 12:51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.

    If there is one thing History as far back as you go in your writings, scholarly work as it is, and the reformation has taught me, it is this, no one gets out of here alive!

    I have pondered the Reformation and the many minds, who, even to this present day, such as your own, contribute to it's adversarial component and come to this saying, based on Matthew 7:21,

    "If you do not die and go to Heaven before you die, you do not go to Heaven".

    I hope you are taking some time to refresh your spirit, soul and body seeing your flesh will never concede or die on its own?

    Rom 15:13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.