To Study History Is To Become Catholic

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 graceAs 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 BaptismOur 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 BaptismWhen 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 ChurchesIf 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 PopeThe 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 PriestsFinally, 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).

27 Replies to “To Study History Is To Become Catholic”

  1. I’m currently in dialogue with a Protestant who refuses to care at all about what the Fathers taught, for fear that they taught a corrupt faith. However, *even if* someone doesn’t afford the Fathers *any* kind of authority and *even if* they don’t care about the reverence held for them by the early church, the writings of the Fathers *do* provide a record of what was taught in the Christian world:

    “Let’s say we’re questioning of the meaning of the Eucharist. Let’s say that the Apostolic and Early Fathers all speak of the Eucharist in sacrificial, real presence terms. What conclusions are we to draw? Well, it could mean that Christ *is* truly present in the Eucharist or it means that all the Fathers were wrong. Since the first possibility leads towards Catholicism, let’s explore the second…

    “If all the fathers were wrong it means that the leaders of the church immediately fell into apostasy (like the Mormons suggest). Could an apostate church authoritatively and authentically assemble the canon years later? More worryingly though – where was the *authentic* Christian voice? Where were the faithful remnant who were standing up for good Protestant values? Surely *someone* would have battled against this idolatrous heresy? Why does it take 1,500 years before we hear the first dissenting voice?

  2. Hmmm… I do believe it all goes back to the matter of free will. God is not stupid, we are. Today’s society is what I coin the “We, or, Me Generation”. The “I or we first” mentality (it just depends on the tense), seems to be, in my opinion, a focal point for many of our current trials and tribulations; i.e., it has to fit “our” beliefs and “our” agenda to be palatable. How many times does “I, he, his, himself”, basically, any form of “me” exist in the following passage.We love proof – we question faith. Yet, let us not despair; history does tend to repeat itself. Faith is on the horizon.

    Martin Luther (1483-1546) stands in history as one of those unique forces, an individual who by force of will and by his ideas changed the world fundamentally. There are several ironies incumbent on Luther’s pivotal role in history: 1) he doesn’t really represent a break with the past, but rather a flash point where ideas and trends which had been smoldering in Europe for several centuries suddenly blazed aflame; 2) Luther initially saw himself as a great reformer of the Catholic church, a simple monk who thought the force of his ideas would single-handedly redirect the Leviathan of the church; in the end, however, he divided Christianity into two separate churches and that second division, Protestantism, would divide over the next four centuries into a near infinity of separate churches; 3) finally, Luther (and all the other reformers) saw themselves as returning Christianity to its roots, they believed that they were setting the clock back; in reality, their ideas irreparably changed the world and pushed it kicking and screaming, not into some ideal past, but into the modern era. (

  3. While the testimony of the Church Fathers is an invaluable illustration of the faith and practice of the Early Church, there are some groups of Christians who will accept nothing except that which is expressly contained in the Bible. Catholics are very fond of quoting the words of Jesus, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church….” (Matthew 16:18.) However, the rest of that verse is even more important for combating the error of corruption creeping into the Church.

    Jesus’ quote continues with the promise “…and the gates of hades will not prevail against it.” If the Church which Jesus established ever became corrupt, then Jesus did not/could not keep His promise to protect it from the gates of hades. Either He lied, or He didn’t have the power to do as He promised. Therefore, Jesus cannot be God. If the Church which Christ founded became corrupt so quickly as the time of the Apostolic Fathers, then He did not protect it at all.

    Intellectual honesty necessitates that if you admit the failure of Christ’s Body, the Church, then you have to relinquish belief in the deity of Christ. The validity of the entire edifice of Christianity then rests squarely upon the validity of the papacy.

    1. …although, of course, this in no way way means that the Church or its leaders will be immune from sin.

    2. Corruption in the church is not guranteed by that quote
      as it applies to corruption of men and the leaders of the Church.
      ‘..the gates of hell shall not prevail against it’
      However, the Catholic Church has defined it to mean is that
      what the Church teaches officially will preserved from corruption.
      So while the local priest or even Bishop may teach that contraception or some such
      other manner at odds with the church is morally okay, it is not the official
      teaching of the Church or consequently the Pope.

  4. I believe history tells us plenty. There were some great Christian leaders in the church before it became the official Roman Catholic Church in the late 300’s AD when Constatine became Emperor. He had much to do with creating the Catholic (notice the capitol “C” church. Reading history, we learn that at one time there were 3 Popes (each one contending they were the true Pope. I claim to be catholic (little “c”” meaning universal. Peter only become the 1st Pope after the Roman Catholic church backtracked and declared Peter plus others who followed Peter as the Pope. History can be falsified which it has over the years. When the RC had 3 Popes, that was a dark period. Plus there have been other dark periods in the church……

    1. Hey WW2 how baout commenting on what Cyprian actually says. For example, regarding the true presence in the Eucharist, the pope’s primacy and need to preserve union with the Church etc? The point is that these are fundamental teacheings present in the earliest days of the Church that many Protestants have simply set aside. You’ve gone off on some tangents and fail to address the main point. What about what Cyprian says, what about the historical witness of the teaching of the early Church. Your theory is about Constantine actually founding the Church is a fanciful one. Cyprian himself, who lived long before Constantine acknowledged the primacy of the point, the existience of the Church and the need to preserve union with her. As for the 3 Popes, please note that this matter was SWIFTLY RESOLVED. All three resigned and a true Pope was appointed. Heance where you see a problem I see eveidence of the Lord’s promise that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church.

  5. Msgr Pope,
    I would love to know more about the early women saints of the church. How about it?

  6. It is quite a shame how divided Christendom is – I for one find it very difficult to converse with non-Catholic Christians about topics of faith and morals. In these conversations I’m sometimes worried that if I quote the Baltimore Catechism or St. Augustine I’ll get a negative response from the non-Catholic because of some anti-Catholic bias lingering from their religious training.

    The impression I have gotten from my experiences with protestants is that they have such an amputated faith.
    They know scripture very well – but who’s interpretation? No early Protestants have any consensus on doctrine and it continues to rupture to this day. So no real writings to refer to for greater insight, other than each man’s personal judgment.

    It is true as Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman said “To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant”.
    Through my own limited study of the Faith: One could spent a lifetime constantly learning about all things relating to Catholic Christianity and still have only scratched the surface.

    1. Yes, it is tough at times but there are a lot of good folks in the Protestant Churches who respect our traditions as well. There is usually some basis for disussion. But I also know your frustration. I have run into both Protestant and disaffected Catholics who it is very hard to have a conversation with since the premises are so different.

  7. The division has done more harm than good. 1)christians can not fight secularism the way it should be fought. 2)it has hindered the free flow of the gospel. Remember if there was still one church, it would be hard for same sex marriage to gain an recognition as it is now in the anglican world, because we would have joined hands in fighting against it. What was intended to be a REFORMED move was never, but DEFORMED because both the leaders and the followers were all SHORT SIGHTED.

    1. This is why we must be thankful for Pope Benedict XVI, the Pope of Christian Unity. It is interesting how his approach to uncompromising the core of what it means to be Catholic has led to a grand overture to Anglicans, closer and closer relations with the Orthodox (particularly the Russian Orthodox), and renewed discussions with the SSPX. It seems that his aggressive ecumenism is more effective than that of dialogue.

  8. Speaking of history….

    How did the practice of auricle confession come about? Are there words in the Bible supporting doctrine of it? Is there evidence of its general practice of it during the first 1000 years of Christianity? I don’t know if anything exists, but I haven’t read anything from the early church fathers about confessing sins to a priest. Many must have lived and died without ever thinking of going to anything like the current form of Catholic confession. Early prolific writers gave many rules concerning the practice and duties of Christian living, but where are the teachings about going to this sort of confession?

    I struggle with the Church’s teaching regarding confession- in particular, the necessity of confessing ones sins to a priest. I understand how it may be helpful where discernment and counsel go, but where did the teaching come from that makes it necessary? It seems to me that God wants direct contact with us in the most extreme ways, like the Eucharist. So, why, in the case of repentance would He require a go between? It doesn’t make sense to me.

    I also can’t find where the Bible makes a distinction between mortal and venial sin, so why would it be necessary to confess one form but not the other. St Paul says “the wages of sin is death.” He doesn’t say the wages of certain sin. How did this teaching change?

    1. anon,

      The biblical basis for confession is John 20:21-23. Hear Jesus appeared to the Apostles and gave them the gift of the Holy Spirit through His breath. The only other time this is done in Scripture is when God created Man. Here Jesus is transforming his disciples into Apostles since the word literally means “ones who are sent”. In these verses, hearing the confession of sins is implied. How else would the Apostles know what these sins are in order to forgive if they don’t hear them first. Also, it is here that the holding of sin against a person is mentioned as being an Apostolic right. This coupled with the Apostles authority to bind and loose (Matt. 18:18) accounts for excommunication.

      The distinction between mortal and venial sins is made in 1 John 5: 16-17. Here St. John makes the distinction between sin the does and does not lead to death. These are by definition two levels of sin. One weakens the character and the other kill grace in the soul (i.e. spiritual death). The words mortal and venial are words the Church has developed to explain these levels.

      Hope this helps!

  9. Odd for the early church fathers to have perfectly selected and preserved the books that became the Bible, but to have fallen apart completely in all other maters.

    When God wants to write instructions, he can do so very clearly (e.g., book of Leviticus). The Jews did not break up into 30,000 groups over how to interpret the Old Testament law. Trying to make a Church out of the Gospels and letters only is like trying to build a car by reading a biography of Henry Ford and some factory service bulletins–indeed, there would be 30,000 different designs that calimed to be the one true car. The New Testatment is not a set of do-it-yourself instructions but the history of a Church once made.

    And sure, there have been Popes with personal failings–but they did not corrupt matters of faith and morals. The Anglican (especially the Episcopal) church had a failure in leadership and did corrupt matters of faith and morals. How many Churches can survive a corrupt leader at all, much less come out of it with matters of faith an morals intact? What does that say about the Catholic Church?

  10. Look at the 95 theses that Luther nailed to the church and say aloud to God if you dare: These theses are bull!
    The catholic church did not like criticism, and still doesn’t know how to deal with critique.
    I am a Catholic and will always be, maybe I don’t like most of protestantism because they are to ascetic in my view.

    But let us make one thing clear:

    Luther was damn right!

    1. I am having a little trouble understanding your first point. But as to the last point, What was Luther “damn right” about? Doctrine, no. I think Martin Luther did have cause for anger as to many pastoral realities in the Church:poorly trained priest, absent bishops, selling of indulgences to fund the building of St Peters etc. But as to Doctrine, he departed from received Chirstian doctrine on many counts. Most Protestants don’t even agree with many of the things he taught but have nuanced or moved beyond what he taught. This is obvious from the fact that there are as many as 30,000 different denominations.

      Re: criticism, the fact is that NO ONE likes critcism. The better question is what does one do about that critcism and I think you assessment of the Church not being able to deal with overlooks many reform movements within the Church down through the ages.

      1. I don’t want to set stereotypes but:
        As I said, I will not become a protestant because they are too ascetic. They have lack of doctrine I agree, but they seem to have more passion than I have and most Catholics for the teaching of the word. They read the bible more in their families as I have witnessed. They have lack of insight respect saints and Mary that I can’t miss. I like the catholic artistic expression more than the protestant artistic expression. They express as they would say more intellectually and not in plastic arts. And they may have more intellectual freedom to do so than I have as a Catholic. But as a catholic I have broad plastic artistic freedom, because most fellow Catholics do not understand graphic symbolisms, so then I can say what I want and every speculation is their interpretation. The protestants do seem to understand the parables of Jesus more than us Catholics (excluding priests), because I believe they think more freely about it because their intellectual freedom allows them to. This may lead to intellectual oddities, but I am sure God loves them because at least they try.
        Looking at the fruits, I don’t like too much the liturgical music in their churches. Most of the time have just flowers for decoration on the walls and no painted icons nor nice and beautiful inspired paintings that make me feel home. However once in a while they can come up with some good music. And I must admit that for a while I am looking for a catholic church that brings up some good old fashioned well trained choir that sings spiritual music.
        But all and all, Luther for me is a hero who dared to speak up and denounced the discrepancies that I am sure God wanted to purge the church from. I always wonder if Protestantism is therefore a product of the acts of Luther and therefore we condemn Luther, or a product of the discrepancies of the catholic church and we are not brave enough to admit.
        I tell you one thing, I know the answer to this question and I know the solution. Even if the doctrine of Luther is not clean enough, a smart move of the catholic church could be to canonize Luther for bringing the church back to The Way who is Christ. Despite the unfortunate splinters it produced.

  11. Laurens,

    You lost me in your first sentence. Protestants are “too ascetic” – in what way? In their passion for teaching their version of the word? In the frequency in which they read the Bible? In their lack of insight on the Saints? Ascetic in their intellectual freedom and its expression? Somehow I can’t place the synonyms for ascetic (austere, abstinent, frugal, abstemious, Spartan and severe) in your statements.

    Also, please help me to understand what plastic arts, graphic symbolism, flowers for decoration and music has to do with the fruits? CCC 1832 states: “The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity.” Are these the fruits you are referring to b/c if they are, I can’t make sense of the correlation. Are you saying that we should look at the physical aspects of a church when assessing its fruitfulness? I get that you are a fan of Luther, but how is it that he brought the Church (Catholic I’m assuming?) back to Christ as the way? Are you saying the Catholic Church had forgotten that Christ was the author of our doctrine, the author of the way to live? Are you saying that the church had become corrupt and was functioning for reasons not outlined in the doctrine (which, btw, I’d have to say I agree with)? How did Luther bring the church back to one holy, Catholic and Apostolic church? Through the splinters that followed his teachings? Bottom line is that I can’t seem to grasp what you are trying to say.

    1. I am inclined to agree with your concerns here anon. We have important doctrinal differences with Protestants that I do not hide here. However, there are elements among our seperated brethren that are admirable. They have the qualities you have noted. I admire the high standard of preaching, love of the Word of God, and strong tradition of music and hymns. I do find many protestant churches overly austere for my tastes and love the beautiful traditional Catholic Churches. I also admire our musical heritage esp. chant and polyphony. But I think we must also celebrate what is good true and beautiful among our seperated brethren even as we must critique important problems with Protestant theology. You may not in my latest post I’ve embedded a video of an Protestant Gospel song By and By

  12. Just some protestant church
    but with much modesty, self-control and chastity < Ascetic
    Made without so much charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness

    Just some catholic church.
    Made with charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness and faithfulness
    Full of passion.

    The fruits materialize in the works and I think that is GOOD.

  13. Yeah One may think that speaking about the underlying motives equals judgment, and Jesus said: I do not judge anybody.

    John 8:15 `Ye according to the flesh do judge; I do not judge any one,

    Even so I think that without judging (saying this is good or bad) the fruits in men need to be put in practice and if not they are worthless talents that God put much effort in to develop.
    Therefore I believe that the quality of the artworks speaks exactly of the fruits inside men that come out and materialize into something palpable that can be Wowed and Ahed by others who can touch God through the art.

    These are two old buildings that are not used any more.

    One day somebody comes by. He looks at one of the buildings and says full of mercy: Beautiful! I can turn that building into something even more beautiful. He looks at the other building and says: How ugly tear it down! Can you hear?

  14. Laurens,

    Thanks for taking the time to respond to my questions:) Your parallel of pictures speak words I clearly understand – We are to put our heart and sole into the gifts we are blessed with and not let them sit idle and unchallenged. With nourishment, time and thought, fruits deliver the ever so perfect amount of sweetness, texture and nourishment. I sense that you have intuitive eyes, a deep love for art and a mind that puts the two together. We all have our gifts. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  15. Romans 3:3-4 What if some were unfaithful? Will their infidelity nullify the fidelity of God? Of course not! God must be true, though every human being is a liar.

    The Dogmas are true, and will always be true, the way way men teach and learn is difficult, but those who leave the church, leave Christ.

  16. Simul Iustus et Pecctor – Simultaneously Sinner & Saint, perhaps the best statement from Fr. Martin Luther.

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