Archive for the ‘Church History’ Category


Deus est nobis refugium et virtus,
adiutorium in tribulationibus inventus est nimis.
Propterea non timebimus, dum turbabitur terra,
et transferentur montes in cor maris.
Fremant et intumescant aquae eius, conturbentur montes in elatione eius.
Fluminis rivi laetificant civitatem Dei,
sancta tabernacula Altissimi.
Deus in medio eius, non commovebitur;
adiuvabit eam Deus mane diluculo.
Fremuerunt gentes, commota sunt regna;
dedit vocem suam, liquefacta est terra.
Dominus virtutum nobiscum,
refugium nobis Deus Iacob.
Venite et videte opera Domini,
quae posuit prodigia super terram.
Auferet bella usque ad finem terrae,
arcum conteret et confringet arma
et scuta comburet igne.
Vacate et videte quoniam ego sum Deus:
exaltabor in gentibus et exaltabor in terra.
Dominus virtutum nobiscum,
refugium nobis Deus Iacob.

* * *

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved;
God will help her right early.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the LORD,
how he has wrought desolations in the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
he burns the chariots with fire!
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth!”
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.


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From the English translation of Iota Unum: A Study of Changes in the Catholic Church in the XXth Century, published in Italy in 1985:

Cardinal Suenens [a Belgian prelate and an influential liberal at the Second Vatican Council] asserted in an interview that “most importantly, after the council there was a recognition of public opinion in the Church. This is something that is relatively new in the Church.”


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A mistake commonly made by modern Catholic apologists is that of assuming that the early Church looked much like the Catholic church of today. While this notion isn’t totally baseless—I would contend, contra a fair number of Protestants, that neither did the early Church look much like most of today’s Protestant churches in either doctrine or practice—it creates the impression, simply untrue, that the teachings of Christ were fully understood and delineated and articulated and the Church’s devotions fully laid out in 70 A.D.

Concerning apostolic succession: was this doctrine understood by the early Church—by the Apostles who cast lots to determine Judas’ successor and by later Christians who chose successors for the Apostles after they had died—in the same way it is today or was even a hundred years after Christ’s death? No, I am willing to admit that it probably wasn’t. But this isn’t to say that new doctrines were made up over the course of time; rather, it entails that, confronted with unprecedented doctrinal and practical difficulties, the Church throughout the ages has been creative in mining Scripture and Tradition for answers.

Klaus Schatz, a Jesuit professor of theology, has some interesting things to say about the development of apostolic succession as a doctrine and practice of the Church and its relationship, at least by analogy, to the New Testament canon. Two passages from his book Papal Primacy, one short and one slightly longer, are particularly worth noting. First, the short one:

We probably cannot say for certain that there was a bishop of Rome [in 95 AD]. It is likely that the Roman church was governed by a group of presbyters from whom there very quickly emerged a presider or ‘first among equals’ whose name was remembered and who was subsequently described as ‘bishop’ after the mid-second century. (Schatz 4).

And now the long one:

A further development began toward the end of the second century, against the background of the conflicts with gnosticism and the resulting emphasis on paradosis (tradition) as the objective rule of faith. Gnosticism, in itself a very complicated movement, was characterized by, among other things, its appeal to a deeper insight in faith, accessible only to an elite of the cognoscenti, handed on in ‘secret traditions,’ and thus to that extent immune to historical mediation or scrutiny. The faith of ordinary Christians was regarded as merely the primitive first stage for beginners; only the cognoscenti, those who ‘possess knowledge,’ can enter the inner sanctuary.

In their debates with these movements, orthodox authors emphasize a tradition that is open to all, historically accessible, and comprehensible even for ordinary Christians. This accessibility is twofold: in sacred Scripture and in the apostolic succession of the episcopal office. The authentic writings of the New Testament were now gradually assembled to form a canon and distinguished from the ‘nonauthentic’ traditions in the apocrypha. The composition of ‘lists of bishops’ extending back to the apostles was an effective way of saying that this uninterrupted succession guarantees that the public tradition [i.e. that which was being taught in the apostolic churches] is true. There are thus no ‘secret traditions.’ Everything is carried on in the full light of day (Schatz 7).

In the first few decades after Christ ascended, there was not, then, a firm concept of apostolic succession guiding the Church. But, then again, neither was there a firm concept of a Christian canon (apart, of course, from the Jewish Scriptures). St. Paul probably didn’t assume that his epistles would become canonized Scripture, nor did the writer of the Gospel of St. Matthew necessarily anticipate the same. Both were writing to spread the word and prevent error; both no doubt expected Christ’s immanent return. The New Testament and apostolic succession thus bear a resemblance to one another in their historical development as doctrinal and practical solutions that arose in reaction to and as a safeguard against the heresies which threatened Christianity in the 2nd century.

One cannot, of course, uncritically equate Sacred Scripture and the priesthood as defined by the early Church; the issues surrounding both are too varied and complex to simplify their relationship in that way. Yet the question still comes to mind: can one stand without the other?

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From The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600):

No passage in Cyprian’s writings has received more detailed attention than the two versions of the exegesis of these words in chapter 4 of his Unity of the Church: one version seems to assert the primacy of Peter as prerequisite to unity among the bishops, while the other seems to treat the primacy of Peter as only representative of that unity. It seems that the first of these versions came first, chronologically, while the second was a clarification of it issued by Cyprian himself, because Rome was making more of his words than he had intended. But the debate over the ‘papal’ versus the ‘episcopal’ exegesis of Matthew 16:18-19 should not obscure the more fundamental point shared by both kinds of exegesis: the indispensability of the empirical unity of the church, ‘this holy mystery of oneness, this unbreakable bond of close-knit harmony… portrayed in the Gospel by our Lord Jesus Christ’s coat, which was not divided or cut at all… [For] that man cannot possess the garment of Christ who rends and divides the church of Christ.’

In making such an issue of the empirical unity of the church, Cyprian [whose date of birth is unknown; he died in 258 A.D.] was expressing the conviction of the church catholic from the beginning. Heresy and schism were closely related because both of the them violated the unity of the church. It is interesting that in all seven epistles of Ignatius [who lived ca. 35-107 A.D.] the church was explicitly called “holy” only once, while the unity of the church in the bishop was one of the overriding preoccupations of all the epistles, so much so that it seems accurate to conclude that ‘the most important aspect of the church for the apostolic fathers is its unity’ (Grant 1964). It has also been observed that the noun ‘unity’ occurred eleven times in Ignatius and the verb six times, but that neither was found anywhere else in the apostolic fathers. For both Ignatius and Cyprian, moreover, the bishop was the key to authentic unity, and schism was identified as party spirit in opposition to him. Therefore the efforts to superimpose upon the second or third centuries the distinction made by Augustinism and especially by the Reformation between the visible and the invisible churches have proved quite ineffectual, even in interpreting the thought of Origen, whose dichotomy between the heavenly and the earthly churches might seem to have tended in that direction; but on earth there was only one church, and it was finally inseparable from the sacramental, hierarchical institution. This church was, in the striking phrase of Origen, ‘the cosmos of the cosmos, because Christ has become its cosmos, he who is the primal light of the cosmos’ (pp. 159-160).

Pelikan was raised in the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod and was a Lutheran at the time this book first saw publication in 1971. In 1998, less than a decade before his death, he converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. I can hardly pass any sweeping judgments on the man’s attitudes toward the various Christian traditions, having read far too little of his work; but, from what I’ve encountered of his writings, he seems to have been preeminently fair to Catholicism, Orthodoxy, and Protestantism alike. Perhaps this is why, even with his apparent conviction that Church unity was a universal concern of the early Church, he took his time in becoming Orthodox: he understood that the nature of the Church is far more complicated, historically and spiritually, than the polemicists of any side have often been willing to admit. Rather than hastily attach himself to another communion—even one that he may have felt from an early date to be more in line with the Tradition handed down to the Apostles—he seems to have been content to stay, at least for a time, where Christ was visible to him.

Christians have made a mess of the Church these past 2,000 years, and finding Christ in the midst of it all can at times be rather difficult. I would surmise from Pelikan’s long wait that his relationship with God—despite his erudition—was probably one of childlike trust.

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