In the thread, "How Confession Became a Divinely Instituted Sacrament," Dozie quoted me and then asked some questions. I think these are important questions, not in the least because they show how Catholics and Protestants have key differences in how they define the word "church".
JB: "It tells you that by the second and third century, they were already misunderstanding what the New Testament writers were saying".
Dozie: Then I have a few questions: … I ask the questions because it is the stated position of bloggers here that the Catholic Church of pope Benedict XVI (which they disdainfully call Roman Catholic) has no direct relationship (apostolic succession) with the early Church and I am interested in getting a Protestant to pin down for me where and when the “Roman Catholic Church” got off the trail.
First of all, “Roman Catholic” is an accurate description. In a preface to his 1987 work, “The Catholic Moment, John Richard Neuhaus outlines three reasons why he prefers to use the term Roman Catholic. I’m not going to reproduce those here, but suffice it to say that it has been a historically-preferred attribution (the post-Tridentine Church referring to itself this way in many official documents), and so, if it seems to be a “disdainful” attribution, well, I didn’t make it up.
Second, before you talk about “when the ‘Roman Catholic Church’ got off the trail,” you first have to establish what the early church was in history, and where the “Roman Catholic Church” came from in the first place. Rome was but one of five "patriarchates" -- and "patriarch" itself was not an early development.
It is vitally important to get the definition straight here of the word “church,” and so a lot of my response here will focus on that definition, and other definitions. If we are equivocating on a particular word, without agreeing on the definition of that word [“church”], then we won’t get anywhere.
It is a very “Newmanesque” thing for a Catholic simply to assume [“not a violent assumption”] that “that the Christianity of the second, fourth, seventh, twelfth, sixteenth, and intermediate centuries is in its substance the very religion which Christ and His Apostles taught in the first.” (Newman, “Development of Doctrine,” From the Introduction).
But the facts of history, as we know them now, are simply not such that you can make this assumption unchallenged. Even Newman “concede[s] … that there are to be found, during the 1800 years through which it has lasted, certain apparent inconsistencies and alterations in its doctrine and its worship, such as irresistibly attract the attention of all who inquire into it.” (From the Introduction). One of these assumptions is the early papacy – it simply wasn’t in existence through the fourth century.
But in the intervening 150 years since Newman, we have learned things about church history, especially about the church in early Rome, that simply make it far too much of a stretch to just permit the unchallenged assumption that the church that existed in the first, second, or third or subsequent centuries, is teaching “in its substance, the very religion which Christ and His Apostles taught.”
Jesus warned of wolves who would come appearing as sheep. Paul, speaking to the Ephesian ELDERS ["overseers"] that "fierce wolves will come in among you [that is, among the number of elders], not sparing the flock;" -- that is, they would be on the inside, and teaching, right in and among what you might call the "apostolic succession." The "succession" is not a Scriptural protection against false teaching. There are a number of other citations to this effect. Do you think that Paul is exclusively thinking of someone like Valentinus or Marcion? These were easily "excluded." The danger is false teaching *within*. The important thing to do is to trace it.
But don't suppose it's just a black-and-white, either "good shepherds" or "wolves as shepherds". There are shades of gray promised, as well.
For example, as I mentioned, T.F. Torrance ("The Doctrine of Grace in the Apostolic Fathers") traces the doctrine of "grace" in the New Testament. As Jesus and Paul "the Gospel as Christ proclaims it is directed to the very folk who, it might appear, have the least right to expect it" (23). Grace is, according to the Protestant (Biblical) definition of it, "God's personal attitude of favor to those who deserve his wrath." (John Frame, "The Doctrine of God," 5) But throughout many of the "Apostolic Fathers," the situation is reversed: "The believer had to strive for it, and it was bestowed upon him if he was worthy" (Torrance, 141).
How do you account for that difference?
So in light of the preceding, it would be foolish to, in Newmanesque fashion, simply “assume away” the very “inconsistencies and alterations” that need to be discussed. The doctrine of Grace is only one doctrine that became corrupted, and that, within just a few hundred years of the Apostles.
It does no one a service simply to “assume” that “The Church” (according to Catholic Doctrine) always had the correct teaching.
Dozie: Do you think that this misunderstanding occurred because the Church of the apostles vanished and a false church appeared?
JB: Consider that the New Testament Church was a missionary movement that sought to carry a message – the message of “Christ and Him Crucified” (see 1 Cor 2:2: “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”) There is, de facto, more to it. But Paul has given here an excellent summary of the message that he sought to convey, everywhere he went. It’s not like Paul went out and preached, “The Church is now at your doorstep. Join the Church, submit to Peter in Rome, and get access to the sacraments.” There is a fundamental difference between these messages.
And yet, the Roman Catholic Church even today continues to assume that “This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him…”
There are many assumptions made in this very paragraph that need to be, and have been, effectively challenged right on this blog.
You may be familiar with this document:
"In his Message to those attending the symposium, the Holy Father wrote: 'The Catholic Church is conscious of having preserved, in fidelity to the Apostolic Tradition and the faith of the Fathers, the ministry of the Successor of Peter'. In the history of the Church, there is a continuity of doctrinal development on the primacy."
Klaus Schatz, a Catholic, in his 1996 work “Papal Primacy,” places only the “initial phases” of this development “well into the fifth century.” 400 years is a lot of time. In 225 years, the U.S. has grown, but the office of the presidency was outlined very clearly in the original constitution, and it's impossible to say that much "development" has taken place. Organizationally, the office of President is largely what it was in 1800.
On the other hand, I've written extensively, and I hope to be writing more, about what the earliest Roman church was like, the history of how a single leader emerged, in about the year 175, after struggles of "who was greatest." Such an emphasis continued on for the next 1800 years. Rome keeps saying "we're greatest." If Christ was giving a "visible" church -- "Peter and Successors," he sure picked a funny way of showing it -- the "visible head" having been "invisible" for most of the first 200 years.
Dozie: Or, was it the "Apostolic Church" that "were already misunderstanding what the New Testament writers were saying"?
The Apostles certainly did not misunderstand. Paul had a very clear and well-developed set of doctrines – even though they weren’t in some places set out in the systematic form that we would like, it’s clear that he knew what he was talking about. As Peter said, it was the "false teachers" who were twisting the Scriptures (2 Peter 3). But after the age of the Apostles, as Paul said beforehand, and Torrance noted afterward, there were false teachers "within".
Dozie: Would you consider the Church of this period (“the second and third century”) the Church of the "Fathers" and therefore Catholic or simply "Roman Catholic"?
The “Fathers” were not a monolithic group. Rome was a missionary outpost for the first 200 years. And I don't think it's a stretch to say that they were teaching different things in different places. Compare Irenaeus with Origen with Tertullian, as but three examples. There was some core teaching that was consistent -- "Christ and him crucified," for example was still a part of it. There was a huge effort to remain consistent with the doctrine of God. But consider what happened to the doctrine of grace. You can't assume these guys were all teaching out of the same "Catechism of the Catholic Church". There were many heterodox teachings. ("Pope" Callistus was very sympathetic to the modalists of his day.)
Dozie: Does the Church you describe above have any connection to the Church of pope Leo I (459) mentioned in your blog and therefore connected to the Church of pope Benedict XVI?
By the time of Leo in 459, we are far, far away from the church in 100, 200, or 300. The doctrine of God, the Trinity, Scriptures, yes. But "government" of the church had changed dramatically. Leo was the beneficiary of (a) an empire and (b) the fall of an empire. That changed things dramatically.
Dozie: Would you even say that the Church of pope Benedict XVI has a direct link to the Church of pope Leo I?
By the time of Leo, the papacy had taken on a definite shape, the shape of the now deceased Roman Empire, and that form is still present in Benedict. The Great Schisms of the fifth century had largely been effected, though the Schism of 1054 had not. I'd venture to say that Leo had not heard of "the Assumption of Mary," though. Or if he had, he'd have thought it heretical.
Dozie: If there is no connection, why do you disturb Catholics of this age with the “errors” of unrelated organization(s), especially, of prior periods?
Not sure what you are asking here. I see the whole history of the church as a seamless thing -- there is only one church -- the explanation that best fits all the data is that the church that Christ founded is not simply an organization and a hierarchical structure. It is the people -- "us who believe" (Eph 1:19) -- Calvin's "all the elect," none of whom will be deceived (Matt 24:24), none of whom will be lost (John 6:39).
Dozie: If they are related, do you think we should not challenge not only your assessment of the teachings of the second and third century Church and, more importantly, your qualification (a whole lot more than academics) to have anything meaningful to say about “Church”?
Challenge my assessment all you want. I'm certain that more study is needed on all of these things.
What, without making assumptions, is the early church? Trace the history of the uniquely Roman doctrines. Verify that they are biblical. If you can.