Thursday, May 27, 2010
Tiber Swim Book Club #2
I wanted to provide some book recommendations for all of you getting ready to swim the Tiber and convert to Roman Catholicism. You know how you're reading the Early Church Fathers, and how wonderful it is? You know that feeling you're getting that now you've plugged into ancient Christian history? Well, as you're ordering your books by Hahn, Madrid, or Ray, (the ones telling you all about Church history that you think are "unanswerable"), for the sake of both sides of the issue, because we know you're trying to be as honest and careful as possible in your research, I think you need to secure a copy of this book:
A Treatise on the Right Use of the Fathers in the Decision of Controversies Existing at This Day in Religion by John Daillé (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1856)
Here's an excerpt from the book on how two contemporaries and friends have two different opinions on an important subject:
Epiphanius maintains against Aerius,of whom he ranks among the Heresiarchs, that a bishop, according to the Apostle Paul, and the original institution of the office itself, is more than a priest: and this he proves in many words, answering all the objections that are made to the contrary. If you only read the passage, I am confident that when you have done, you would not hesitate to swear that what he has there delivered, was the general opinion of all the doctors of the Church; it being very unlikely that so great and so renowned a prelate would so positively have denied the opinion which he disputed against, if any one of his own familiar friends had also maintained the same. Yet for all this, Jerome, who was one of the principal lights of our western Church, and who lived at the same time with Epiphanius, who was his intimate friend, and a great admirer of his piety, says expressly, "that among the ancients, bishops and priests were the same; the one being a name of dignity, and the other of age." That it may not be thought that this fell from him in discourse only, he there undertakes to prove the same at large, alleging several passages of Scripture on this subject; and he also repeats the same thing, in two or three several places of his work; whereby it evidently appears that even positions quite contradictory to the opinions which have been delivered and maintained by some of the Fathers, and proposed in whatever terms, have notwithstanding been sometimes either maintained, or at least tolerated, by some others of no less authority.
Jerome himself has severely criticised Rufnnus, and condemned many of his opinions as most pernicious and deadly; yet we do not anywhere find that he was ever accounted a heretic by the rest of the Fathers. But we shall have occasion hereafter to consider more at large similar examples; and shall only at present observe, that if those books of Jerome, which we mentioned a little before, should have chanced to be lost, every man would then assuredly have concluded from Epiphanius, that no doctor of the ancient Church ever held, that a bishop and a priest were one and the same thing in their institution.
Who now, after all this, will assure us, that among so many other opinions as have been rejected here and there by the Fathers, and that too in as plain terms as those of Epiphanius, none of them have ever been defended by some of the learned of those times? Or, is it not possible, that they may have held them, though they did not write in defence of the same? Or may they not perhaps have written also in defence of them, and their books have been since lost ? How small is the number of those in the Church, who had the ability, or at least the will, to write ! And how much smaller is the number of those whose writings have been able to secure themselves against either the injury of time or the malice of men!
It is objected against the Protestants, as we have observed before, that Jerome commends and maintains the adoration of relics: but yet he himself testifies, that there were some bishops, who defended Vigilantius, who held the contrary opinion; whom he, according to his ordinary rhetoric, calls " accomplices in his wickedness."*
Who knows now what these bishops were, and whether they deserved any such usage at Jerome's hands or no? For the expressions which he uses against them, and against their opinions, are so full of gall and enmity, that they utterly take away all credit from his testimony. But we have insisted long enough upon this particular, and shall therefore forbear to instance any further in others.
As it is therefore impossible to discover exactly, out of the Fathers, what have been the sense and judgment of the ancient Church,—whether taken universally or particularly, or whether the Church is taken for the whole body of believers, or for the prelates and inferior clergy only,—I shall here conclude as heretofore, that the writings of the ancients are altogether insufficient for proving the truth of any of those points which are at this day controverted amongst us.