To know history is also to become Catholic. We, along with the Orthodox are the only Churches that stretch right back to Christ and the Apostles. The true faith has literally been handed from the apostles to their successors the bishops through the laying on of hands. We have a living Tradition of cherished teachings and memories going back to Chirst himself.
Sadly the upheaval of the 16th century led to the Protestant denominations of today which were largely severed from history and Tradition. Sola Scriptura! (Scripture alone!) the cry went up, as if Scripture could be divorced from the Church, and sacred history that gave it birth. An immense and ahistorical rupture severed many Christians from their sacred inheritance.
Today there are often claims by many in the Protestant denominations that some Catholic teaching or another is either unbiblical or was invented in the Middle Ages or later. But to study history puts the lie to this claim and to read the Fathers of the Church is to enter a very Catholic world. To read the Fathers throws opens a door to the earliest centuries of the Church stretching back to as early as 100 AD a the very close of the Apostolic age. It is almost like a seamless garment. As the last Book of Scripture was being written around 90 AD, the first letters and documents of the Fathers began being circulated among the faithful. They cast light on the earliest history of the Church and we discover that world to be Catholic, a world wherein sacraments are on glorious display along with Scripture, a world where in authority and unity are insisted upon, a world of Bishops, Priests, Deacons and of the Popes. Protestant imaginings of the Church simply do not stand the test of history which testifies overwhelmingly to things Catholic.
Last week we looked at a few of the teachings of St. Ignatius of Antioch. Now we do well to cast our gaze on St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage in North Africa. He was one of the first Fathers to write exclusively in Latin. He was baptized in 245 A.D., martyred in 258 A.D. He was a prolific writer of numerous letters and teastises. Here is just a sampling of his writing that testifies to the Catholicity of his world:
On the Necessity of Holy Communion received in s state of grace– As the prayer [Our Father] continues we ask and say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” We ask that this bread be given us daily, so that we who are in Christ and daily receive the Eucharist as the food of salvation may not, by falling into some more grievous sin and then, in abstaining from communion, be withheld from the heavenly Bread, and be separated from Christ’s Body…He Himself warns us saying, “Unless you eat the Flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, You shall not have life in you” (Jn 6:54). (Treatise on the Our Father, 18)
On the Baptism of Infants and the Necessity of Baptism– Our Council [of African Bishops] … all formed the judgement that it is not right to deny the mercy and the grace of God to any one that is born….We must do everything we possibly can to prevent the destruction of any soul….For just as God draws no distinction between persons, so neither does He between ages, but shows Himself Father equally to all….it is our view that it is to be observed most particularly in the case of newborn infants; they have all the more claim upon our assistance and God’s mercy for the reason that, right from the very first moment they are born, in their crying and wailing they are doing nothing else but imploring our help. (Letter 64 to Fidus, 2,3,5).
On the Effects of His Own Baptism– When the stain of my past life had been washed away by means of the water of rebirth, a light from above poured itself upon my chastened and now pure heart; Afterwards, through the Spirit which is breathed from heaven, a second birth made of me a new man: doubts immediately clarified themselves, the closed opened, the darkness became illuminated, what before had seemed difficult offered a way of accomplishment, what had been thought impossible was able to be done….What was born of the flesh…had now begun to be of God, inasmuch as the Holy Spirit was animating it. (Letter to Donatus, 4)
On Those Who Break Away from the Catholic Church and try to form other Churches– If someone does not hold to this unity of the Church can he imagine that he still holds the faith?…He cannot have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his mother. If anyone outside the ark of Noah was able to escape, then perhaps someone outside the pale of the Church may escape….Does anyone believe that in the Church this unity….can be divided and can be separated by the parting asunder of opposing wills? Whoever holds not fast to this unity holds not to the law of God…. . he who gathereth elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ” nor is there any other home to believers but the one Church” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4,6, 9)
On the Authority and Primacy of the Pope – The Lord says to Peter: I say to you, you are rock and upon this rock I will build my Church… (Mt 16:18). It is on one man that He builds the Church and although he assigns like powers to all the apostles after His resurrection ….nevertheless, in order that unity might be clearly shown, He established by His own authority a source for that unity which takes its beginning from one man alone. A primacy is given to Peter whereby it is clear that there is but one Church and one chair (“The Unity of the Catholic Church,” 4)…..There is one God, and one Christ, and one Church and one chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering. (“Letter of Cyprian to All His People,” 43)
On the Confession of Sins to Priests – Finally, of how much greater faith and more saving fear are those who…confess to the priests of God in a straightforward manner and in sorrow, making an open declaration of conscience. Thus they remove the weight from their souls and seek the saving remedy for their wounds, however small and slight they be…I beseech you, brethren, let everyone who has sinned, confess his sin while he is still in the world, while his confession is still admissible, while satisfaction and remission made through the priests are pleasing before the Lord. (“The Lapsed,” 28).