St. Gregory Nazianzus (329-390) and the Development of Doctrine

Next time you run across someone who suppresses any idea of the development of doctrine, bring them to this Cappadocian Doctor of the Church and his 31st Oration.


“You see lights breaking upon us, gradually; and the order of Theology, which it is better for us to keep, neither proclaiming things too suddenly, nor yet keeping them hidden to the end. For the former course would be unscientific, the latter atheistical; and the former would be calculated to startle outsiders, the latter to alienate our own people. I will add another point to what I have said; one which may readily have come into the mind of some others, but which I think a fruit of my own thought. Our Saviour had some things which, He said, Выбраныя_Святыя_Васіль_Вялікі,_Рыгор_Багаслоў,_Ян_Златавустcould not be borne at that time by His disciples (though they were filled with many teachings), perhaps for the reasons I have mentioned; and therefore they were hidden. And again He said that all things should be taught us by the Spirit when He should come to dwell amongst us. Of these things one, I take it, was the Deity of the Spirit Himself, made clear later on when such knowledge should be seasonable and capable of being received after our Saviour’s restoration, when it would no longer be received with incredulity because of its marvellous character. For what greater thing than this did either He promise, or the Spirit teach. If indeed anything is to be considered great and worthy of the Majesty of God, which was either promised or taught.” (Paragraph XXVII)

Protestant – Catholic Dialogue, Part 1

The following is a recent dialogue between myself and a fellow Protestant who has studied Catholicism and has found that it is falsified in light of Scripture and History, among other things. My responses will follow “EY” in bold, and his will follow “Protestant” in Italic.


Protestant: Just re-reading some passages today in volume 6 of Philip Schaff’s History of the Church, specifically the History of the Middle Ages. Reading through the section on Alexander VI amazed me once again at how corrupt many of the popes were before the Reformation and its kind of one of those things that one can why exactly the reformation had to happen.

EY: A reformation, indeed. *The* Protestant reformation? A stripping away from the very heart of the Christian patrimony? Not the right answer.

Protestant: Yes, Erick, I know that is what you believe, But for the people at the time I believe that the two cant be separated. When you have those like the Warrior Pope who leads armies and seems more like a warrior than a Shepard of souls, the question then comes why would God allow such an institution to develop in that way? Not reading itPope_Alexander_VI through the lens of later theology, but looking at it as the people would have seen it in those days. When you have the kind of degradation, I do believe it is necessary to reform and point people back to the only true infallible rule of faith and the apostolic testimony that it depicts for faith and life. I think is what the Reformers wanted and they believed their views were consistent with ancient catholicity and would not have seen the papal office as being traceable to that faith. In fact, the degradation lends evidence to think that something is quite not right here, we are to put our authority in this institution? Clearly not.


EY: Well, if one were going to step back and contemplate how God could allow the Church to develop in a certain way, one could be stuck in this question from any Christian confession. Many different Christians have a point where they feel the Church has undergone an Ichabod-fatality, and the conditions for why, how, and when are all over the map. We won’t go into that.

Degradation was set in motion from the very beginning with the sin of Adam & Eve, Cain, and those who would continue to be followers of the Serpent. This even found itself in the band of Apostles that our Lord Himself gathered to ordain the inauguration of the Kingdom of God on earth. So degradation itself is not a criteria which falsifies the existence of Christianity altogether. You are an avid reader of the NT, and so you know the Apostles understood ecclesial realities to have not only existed, but even persisted in the midst of moral fires, such as the church of Corinth. The Apostles had to put out many of these fires. So we have to ask *what kind* of degradation would falsify an institutionBerchem,_Nicolaes_Pietersz._-_Paul_and_Barnabas_at_Lystra_-_1650 such as what Catholics claim was ordained by Christ, i.e. the visible Catholic Church. Since she claims that God preserves the deposit of faith handed by Christ unto the Apostles, and from the Apostles unto the Church, we would have to prove that the Catholic Church had deviated from this rule. Now, since the bad behavior of this or that Apostle (Judas), this or that bishop (Diotrephes), this or that missionary (see the names of those who had abandoned Paul), the upholding of the Apostolic deposit is reserved for a graded hierarchy of teaching modes. We already see this at work in the Apostolic era with the Council of Jeru (49). Was not St. Paul already well within his rights to claim infallible authority on the question of Gentilic inclusion into the Christic covenant? And yet, he still travels to Jeru to gather together with the Apostles and the elders in Council. In fact, at the closing of the Council, Paul (and 3 others) were sent to Antioch to report the Conciliar letter to the Gentiles there, and this brought great comfort. So it stands to reason that we might ask what was lacking in the personal teaching of St. Paul himself (together with St. Barnabas) that would incite an official mode of judgment from Jerusalem? And why would a letter from that Council be requisite for the presenting of its authority, if it was not the case that the early Apostolic church was cognizant of official magisterium versus un-official? So as the Church moved on, she continued to abide by this rule, and even through the 2nd millennium when the claims of Papal power were at their highest.

So it will not suffice to point to this or that Pope, this or that country, this or that scenario, and to try and argue that such moral degradation is inconsistent with the promise of perpetuity in Christ’s Church. Rather, an appeal to official modes of teaching where the Apostolic deposit was violated. This and only this will suffice.

Now, none of the above is to preclude the infallible existence of a “remnant according to election”. God always has sheep. That is not called into question here.

In short, if Calvin, Luther, Bucer, Zwingli, and Co. did find an error, than I will afford them my consideration. But in each case, we find a violation of both Scripture and the moral consensus of the Church’s fathers, doctors, and councils, all of which had been the object of the Spirit’s indwelling for 1400 plus years by the time of the Reformers.


Protestant: Yes, Erick, degradation is all throughout God’s people in the Scriptures, but you don’t see many of them putting authority into ecclesiastical structures or anything else except in the Word of God. You mentioned pointing to official modes of teaching will suffice so one can see where Apostolic deposit is violated, but my point was that the only clear inspired deposit of apostolic teaching that we have is in the scriptures.

I’m sure you are aware of the Protestant critique of the catholic use of Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council, but I think it is anachronistic to read some kind of “Magisterium” in there, this is clearly revelation being given by Luke. As J.B. Lightfoot has pointed out regarding Peter’s declaration in here, he states that the primacy here is understood historically and the petrine primacy here fulfilled is historical and personal and not doctrinal and continuous and there is no way to derive a theological doctrine of ecclesiology out of this section. Your argument about why a letter would be needed is quite obvious, this was common practice in the Greco-Roman world to circulate the letter to many people and it was read because of illiteracy and the fact that they wouldn’t have been able to read a sophisticate Greek letter. I think we are reading too much into one verse. I don’t know what it means to ask if Paul could have infallibly declared such a thing when its obvious that apostles aren’t infallible. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend the using of Acts 15, because when read in context, I think it would be more on the side of Conciliarism than Papal primacy in Roman Catholicism. Because Peter is an apostle and presented as an equal with the others. James is clearly leading and directs the proceedings of the council and not Peter and when James speaks he uses the imperative mode in the Greek and commands the people to listen and confirms Peter’s citation and opinion. Peter addressed the council as an equal and an Apostle of God used to present the Gospel to the Gentiles, and in fact, we know that this was an assembly like many other Jewish assemblies of the time where Rabbis would debate the issue out and here it is rule by consensus and we get no hint of Peter making a declaration from God on his own authority. Peter in fact relates the supernatural vision and direction that had been given to him to proclaim the Gospel to Gentiles and nothing here is about his own ecclesiastical position of a Pope. King of odd that after verse 11 that there is no more mention of Peter.

To sum up, this is an important assembly in Acts to include the Gentiles, it is quite clear that among the Pharisees, the strict school of Shammai was predominant which was more harsh towards Gentile believers and so it makes sense to have something like this which is purely a historical event. If this was clearly meant to be a model of the Church, we would expect the office of the Papacy or importance of authoritative bishops to be mentioned in Paul’s pastoral epistles, but we don’t, instead we have two offices of Presbyter and the episkopos and the two are synonymous in the New Testament and they are not invested with infallible authority. Once you begin to talk about official modes of teaching as “Infallible” then that teaching cannot be corrected or it is interpreted through different lenses and who are you to say that one theologian is wrong to the exclusion of the other? I wouldn’t agree that they strayed from some universal consensus, in fact, the only thing that I can think of that the Early Church Fathers were consistent on was Monotheism, and the Rule of Faith, outside of that, you can find just about anything, the same goes for the Councils. The Nicene Creed or Symbol only has authority when it is in conformity with scripture. That’s how you recognize it is more legitimate than the Second Nicene Council’s rulings which is quite evident to the reader of scripture.

EY: The early fathers definitely believed that the Church, as guided by the principle of the Holy Spirit, was led to infallible decisions. This was believed by many saints prior to what you might say would be the beginning of an Imperial revolution to 512px-Sylvester_I_and_ConstantineChristianity. For myself, I came out of a Baptistic sect which regarded the Donatists as the last remnant of the “true Church”. In fact, if you read many anabaptist material, they are fond of the Donatists. And yet, what was the response to the Donatists by the larger catholic world? They fell out of the authoritative institution of the visible Church.

In regards to the Council of jerusalem…..when did I mention St. Peter? I don’t think I even referenced his name.

Also, with regard to Scripture – there was already a hermeneutic of interpretation which was privatized to the living authority of the Church. This is why, for instance, authors such as Tertullian, Irenaeus, and Co. would disallow the utilization of Scripture by heretics. In other words, when you are holding up the Bible Chris…you are not holding up the Bible, but your interpretation of it. That should be a given. Now, you might not have a problem with that. But here is the problem. You have no principled claim to correct teaching other than an invisible claim to infallibility so far as “essentials” are concerned. But even then, there is an arbitrary diameter which draws the circle of just what those essentials are. Such is the fate of private religion.

Protestant: Given that I have a lot to do, I will respond to the bulk of your arguments tomorrow. But to hit on a few things, I would ask if you could produce documentation from Irenaeus on the utilization of scripture so I can have the references. The only time when they criticize their opponents utilization of scripture was either when they relied on obscure ambiguous exposition, or as many historians have pointed out, they were scandalized that the heretics utilized scripture but would turn around and accuse these same scriptures of ambiguity and doubted their authority while claiming their own oral tradition for themselves and that is exactly what Irenaeus wanted to attacks as he goes on to show that they have brought innovation and that they won’t take cognizance of the clear proof of their errors in scripture.

It is clear what Irenaeus’ views on Scripture was and I shall point you to a work by Ellen Flesseman-Van Leer in her book Tradition and Scripture in the Early Church, as she states, “The entire book of Adversus Haereses is broadly speaking but a demonstration from Scripture that the Church doctrine is right and gnostic doctrine was false… If Irenaeus wants to prove the truth of a doctrine materially, he turns to Scripture, because therein the teaching of the apostles is objectively accessible.Proof from tradition and Scripture serve one and the same end: to identify the teaching of the Church as the original apostolic irenaeusteaching. The first establishes that the teaching of the Church is the apostolic teaching, and the second, what this apostolic teaching is”, and that is exactly what Irenaeus does. In his against Heresies III.v1.1 he states, “We have learned from none others the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith”. The verbal form of tradition is used here, “Handing down” and so Irenaeus believed that apostolic teaching was traditioned by means of scripture. He does later state that the Church was handed the fullness of truth, but it is clear that he believes this was by Scripture. In fact, Irenaeus will bring forward a hypothetical of what happens when the Apostles do not leave us any writings, and that is through the Churches where tradition went to, but in fact we do have their writings and so Irenaeus points out that the content of that preaching is embodied in the scriptures and verified therein. And I must dispute your point about equivocating an interpretation of the Bible with the meaning of the Bible. Clearly Irenaeus didn’t believe that and here is a passage from that end from II.27.2, “Since therefore, the entire Scriptures, the prophets and the Gospels, can be clearly, unambiguously, and harmoniously understood by all, although all do not believe them; and since they proclaim that one only God, to the exclusion of all others, formed all things by His word, whether visible or invisible, heavenly or earthly, in the water or under the earth, as I have shown from the very words of Scripture; and since the very system of creation to which we belong testifies, by what falls under our notice, that one Being made and governs it– those persons will seem truly foolish who blind their eyes to such a clear demonstration, and will not behold the light of the announcement; but they put fetters upon themselves, and every one of them imagines, by means of their obscure interpretations of the parables, that he has found out a God of his own.” and so it seems quite clear to me that Irenaeus believed scripture to be clear to those who are willing to receive it! He uses terms like ‘obscure’ and that presupposes that there are objective measures one can take to utilize proper exegesis of the scriptures. So, your claim about interpretation is false. It presupposes an unwarranted skepticism about language that you would never apply to any other written text. I don’t need some Church interpretation to know that “Jesus wept” means that “Jesus wept”.

Now, I had more quotations to verify this from J.N.D. Kelly, Richard Hanson, Henry Chadwick and G.L. Prestige, but I think I will leave it here right now as I have to go.

The reason I brought up St. Peter is that he is a strong foundation for your beliefs in papal primacy. I am well aware that you didn’t bring up his name, but I don’t see how you couldn’t given official Roman Catholic teaching regarding Peter and ecclesiastical unity. Yes, there are some Baptists who hold a “Trail of Blood” view of ecclesiology, but he claimed more groups than just the Donatists, so I don’t know what exactly your Church was, but I clearly reject that view. I don’t know what bringing the anabaptists of the radical reformation have to do with our prior discussion, but as Leonard Verduin, a scholar of that movement, has pointed out, the reason the donatists were revered was because of the union of Church and State and pacifism, but was not related to them having the true faith all together. The associations had nothing to do with our discussion of ecclesiastical authority. The reason the Donatists fell out of favor was that the Fathers all saw schism as a scandal like Augustine did, but that is a non-sequitur. Just because some people found affinity with the Donatists doesn’t mean you endorse their entire theology. Now, it is clear that the Early Fathers focused a lot on the visible Church as a standard for unity because for Augustine it would be like breaking away with love and the Holy Spirit. Now, it is clear that this all derives from an ecclesiology of the Church as the means of grace which I don’t accept because it goes against what I see as the scriptural teaching on the proper role of the Church. Of course, you can find many Fathers who had a high ecclesiology, but it doesn’t mean that they invested the Church with an authority that is only unique to them in some how infallibly interpret scripture. We have to face the fact that some of them were inconsistent with their own stated principles about scripture, but had customs that didn’t derive from that principle. We can trace clear developments on why certain writers had the views they had on Church and its relationship to scripture and especially with the development of Apostolic succession one can clearly see why such an imbalance would occur.

Your statements about the role of scripture and interpretation are contradicted by the fact that the Fathers also enunciate principles like interpreting obscure passages in light of clear ones and the principle of scripture interpreting scripture, and it would be absurd to think that the Fathers didn’t think that the private theologian could expound and discern the meaning of scripture in private study. Your assertion about the Church producing infallible decisions just by the principle of the Holy Spirit I think is best contradicted by the Father Athanasius who has pages and pages in his writings arguing that the Council Fathers of Nicea were right about their extra-biblical term because it was in conformity with scripture and he provided exegesis of key passages to prove his point and even during the Arian ascendancy which Jerome looked back on and said the World awoke and was amazed to find itself Arian, Athanasius stuck to the clear meaning of scripture in his writings. So, I think that is a counter example to the view that one would point to the Church’s decision just in virtue of it being the Church’s decision because of some supernatural guiding spirit which can’t be confirmed logically by any other way than what God has stated in his inspired word.

EY: On the invalid title to read Scripture by the heretics, one should start with chapters 15-22 in Tertullian’s “Prescription against the heretics”. While it is true, as historians have pointed out, that the early apologists criticized the use of Scripture by the heretics because of their false expositions, appeal to ambiguity, and often enough their own skepticism about the same texts, I don’t see how that would subtract from my argument. The bulk of my argument comes, not by way of their reason to dismiss the heretics, but in their belief as to *how* authentic exposition of Scripture and the content of Christ’s revelation is known with certainty. Tertullian clearly says that there is a discrimination to be applied when knowing *who* has the truth of the Apostles. I will give you a couple references, but I am sure you can consult the work :

“They put forward the Scriptures, and by this insolence of theirs they at once influence some. In the encounter itself, however, they weary the strong, they catch the weak, and dismiss waverers with a doubt. Accordingly, we oppose to them this step above all others, of not admitting them to any discussion of the Scriptures. If in these lie their resources, before they can use them, it ought to be clearly seen to whom belongs the possession of the Scriptures, that none may be admitted to the use thereof who has no title at all to the privilege.” (chapter 15)

“Our appeal, therefore, must not be made to the Scriptures; nor must controversy be admitted on points in which victory will either be impossible, or uncertain, or not certain enough. But even if a discussion from the Scriptures should not turn out in such a way as to place both sides on a par, (yet) the natural order of things would require that this point should be first proposed, which is now the only one which we must discuss: With whom lies that very faith to which the Scriptures belong. From what and through whom, and when, and to whom, has been handed down that rule, by which men become Christians? For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.” (Chapter 19)

“Therefore the churches, although they are so many and so great, comprise but the one primitive church, (founded) by the apostles, from which they all (spring). In this way all are primitive, and all are apostolic, while they are all proved to be one, in (unbroken) unity, by their peaceful communion, and title of brotherhood, and bond of hospitality—privileges which no other rule directs than the one tradition of the selfsame mystery.” (Chapter 20)

“From this, therefore, do we draw up our rule. Since the Lord Jesus Christ sent the apostles to preach, (our rule is) that no others ought to be received as preachers than those whom Christ appointed; for no man knows the Father save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him. Matthew 11:27 Nor does the Son seem to have revealed Him to any other than the apostles, whom He sent forth to preach— that, of course, which He revealed to them. Now, what that was which they preached— in other words, what it was which Christ revealed to them— can, as I must here likewise prescribe, properly be proved in no other way than by those very churches which the apostles founded in person, by declaring the gospel to them directly themselves, both vivâ voce, as the phrase is, and subsequently by their epistles. If, then, these things are so, it is in the same degree manifest that all doctrine which agrees with the apostolic churches— those moulds and original sources of the faith must be reckoned for truth, as undoubtedly containing that which the (said) churches received from the apostles, the apostles from Christ, Christ from God. Whereas all doctrine must be prejudged as false which savours of contrariety to the truth of the churches and apostles of Christ and God. It remains, then, that we demonstrate whether this doctrine of ours, of which we have now given the rule, has its origin in the tradition of the apostles, and whether all other doctrines do not ipso facto proceed from falsehood. We hold communion with the apostolic churches because our doctrine is in no respect different from theirs. This is our witness of truth.” (Chapter 21)

“Not as if He thus disapproved of all the rest, but because by three witnesses must every word be established. After the same fashion, too, (I suppose,) were they ignorant to whom, after His resurrection also, He vouchsafed, as they were journeying together, to expound all the Scriptures. Luke 24:27 No doubt He had once said, I have yet many things to say unto you, but you cannot hear them now; but even then He added, When He, the Spirit of truth, shall come, He will lead you into all truth. John 16:12-13 He (thus) shows that there was nothing of which they were ignorant, to whom He had promised the future attainment of all truth by help of the Spirit of truth. And assuredly He fulfilled His promise, since it is proved in the Acts of the Apostles that the Holy Ghost did come down. Now they who reject that Scripture can neither belong to the Holy Spirit, seeing that they cannot acknowledge that the Holy Ghost has been sent as yet to the disciples, nor can they presume to claim to be a church themselves who positively have no means of proving when, and with what swaddling-clothes this body was established. Of so much importance is it to them not to have any proofs for the things which they maintain, lest along with them there be introduced damaging exposures of those things which they mendaciously devise.” (Chapter 22)

Much the same is recorded by St. Irenaeus, and I need not comb through the statements in his Contra heresies. I am sure you are familiar. The point here is that our saint does not merely appeal to the “proper” interpretation of Scripture in order to find the central pull of orthodoxy’s certainty, as if a proper hermeneutic style (normal, grammatical, & historical methodology) would help one to arrive at the Apostolic deposit. To this is added the element of discrimination – there is actually a body of society who has the *right* to interpret the Scripture and hold the claim of Apostolic perpetuity. I quote from Mr. John Lawson (he passed in 2003), who was an Englishman, a Weslyan Methodist, and a Cambridge historian, from his “The Biblical Theology of Saint Irenaeus”:

“With [Irenaeus] it is fundamental that the Scripture provide complete proof of all Christian doctrine….However, the question of religious authority for S. Irenaeus is by no means so simple as this. Very many other passages speak of the unwritten tradition of the Church as the determinative voice. It is even maintained that the faith could well have continued upon this ground alone, had the Apostles left no writings behind them” (pp. 32 f.)

“According to S. Irenaeus, the available authentic information from the Apostles regarding the life, teaching, and saving work of the Lord was not wholly written. There was also an oral tradition handed down by the Apostles and their successors. We may most accurately describe this tradition as the unwritten New Testament. It will be seen that in the system of Irenaeus it occupies a position of dogmatic value equivalent to that of the Epistles, save only that ink and paper is absent” (p 87)

“As the Canon and interpretation of the written tradition is to be determine by authority, so also is the unwritten…Once granted that there was such a thing as unwritten information to which valid appeal could be made, the only answer to the heretic was the plain assertion that the true oral tradition was the exclusive possession of the Church, just as was the written tradition. This was seconded by the assertion that, as the Church was alone competent to expound the Scripture, so she alone could determine the meaning of that which was not written…It was the teaching of S. Irenaeus that the witness to tradition is collective, and, indeed, by inherent nature universal. It is not individual, for individualism is the mark of heresy… The voice of the Church is always for practical purposes regarded as the voice of her official and recognized leaders” (pp. 91 f.)

“To enquire whether tradition or Scripture is the primary authority is to obscure the mind of S. Irenaeus by asking the wrong question. To him both are manifestations of one and the same thing, the apostolic truth by which the Christians lives….The truth hands by two cords, and he can speak of either as self-sufficient without intending to deny or subordinate the other” (p. 103)

“Religious authority…is bound to dissolve into the tones of the present voice of the Church… This ‘Living Voice’ is the actual religious authority for S. Irenaeus. We may candidly agree that he would probably not have recognized this as the truth about himself” (p. 105)

“The ‘Living Voice’ of the Church was therefore the essential and determinative factor in whatever he actually taught” (p. 292)

More on Irenaeus from scholar J.N.D. Kelly (as you referred to before):

“But where in practice was this apostolic testimony or tradition to be found? It was no longer possible to resort, as Papias and earlier writers had done, to personal reminiscences of the Apostles. The most obvious answer was that the apostles had committed it orally to the Church, where it had been handed down from generation to generation. Irenaeus believed that this was the case, stating that the Church preserved the tradition inherited from the apostles and passed it on to her children. It was, he thought, a living tradition which was, *IN PRINCIPLE*, independent of written documents; and he pointed to barbarian tribes which ‘received this faith without letters’. Unlike the alleged secret tradition of the Gnostics, it was entirely public and open, having been entrusted by the apostles to their successors, and by these in turn to those who followed them, and was visible in the Church for all who cared to look for it….Irenaeus makes two further points. First, the identity of oral tradition with the original revelation is guaranteed by the unbroken succession of bishops….Secondly, an additional safeguard is supplied by the Holy Spirit, for the message was committed to the Church, and the Church is the home of the Spirit. Indeed, the Church’s bishops are on his view Spirit-endowed men who have been vouchsafed ‘an infallible charism of truth’ (charisma veritatis certum)” (Early Christian Doctrines, page 37)


“The difficulty was, of course, that heretics were liable to read a different meaning out of Scripture than the Church; but Irenaeus was satisfied that, provided the Bible was taken as a whole, its teaching was self-evident. The heretics who misinterpreted it only did so because, disregarding its underlying unity, they seized upon isolated passages and rearranged them to suit their own ideas. Scripture must be interpreted in the light of its fundamental ground-plan, viz. the original revelation itself. For that reason, correct exegesis was the prerogative of the Church, where the apostolic tradition or doctrine which was the key to Scripture had been kept intact.” (page 38)

Now, while it is true that St Irenaeus would have thought that one could practically confute the errors of heretics and establish the gospel from the Scriptures themselves (Catholics today can even tell you that), his appeal to the norm of the ecclesial faithfulness to tradition would supply the explanation for why he took “this or that” interpretation about a certain doctrine. For example, you might find a reason to extract a sola-scriptura method from St. Irenaeus, but then find that you are diametrically opposed to his position on baptism, the Eucharist, the prestige of the Roman See, and certainly his account of Christ’s age 🙂 . Well, what explains this? It is because Irenaeus came from a different school of interpretive learning. That is all.

As for Leonard Verduin – I have his “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren”, and if you read the first chapter “Donatisten”, you will see very clearly that he does not only believe they were correct in their vehemence of the integration of the secular state with Christianity, but that they would serve to highlight the first movement that would be ongoing until the Anabaptists (i.e. the Reformer’s stepchildren). It is not apparent that he sees them as heretics as well. Especially when he writes:

“The one thing the prevailing Church had against the ‘heretics’ [Donatists] was their refusal to go along with ‘Christian sacralism’. This was their sin, their one and only sin. And it was this sin, and this sin only, that set the wheels of the Church’s discipline going” (page 35)

Now, he might be speaking from the point of view of the prevailing Church. Grant it. But he spends no time describing the beliefs of these Donatists. I understand, as a Sola-Scripturist (I presume you hold the title with pride) , you can afford to say that the Donatists bore some mark of semblence to the original belief of the Apostles, though they were not orthodox en toto, it is somewhat of a scandal to me to think that no Christian group, therefore, continued in the right-path (by your standards) until the post-Reformation times.

You had also said the following – << The reason the Donatists fell out of favor was that the Fathers all saw schism as a scandal like Augustine did, but that is a non-sequitur. >>

This is actually not the full truth here. There was also the added element that their schism was predicated off their break from the See of Peter, the principle of episcopal unity in the catholic church. This is shown in St. Augustine, who shared an acrostic hymn for his readers to recite in order to rehearse the ground of falsity in the African Donatist schism. The hymn went like this:

‘Number the bishops from the See of Peter itself. And in that order of fathers see who succeeds whom; That is the rock against which the gates of hell do not prevail’ (Ps. c. Partes Don. str. 18)”

Also, if you read a very accessible work entitled “Against the Donatists” by St. Optatus of Mileve (360-380 AD), you will see that the ground of the Donatist schism was its schism from the chair of Peter, which was stationed in the Roman bishopric. I will give you some portions from book 2 which illustrate this below. Now, lest he is cast away, I would tell you that Optatus’ writings were held as gold by Augustine
(De Doctrina Christ., xl) . Btw, please ignore the *numbers* in the text, that is simply in the link from which I got the quotation. You can read all 7 books of Optatus at this link (

Book 2 Chapter 2

So we have proved that the Catholic Church is the Church which is spread throughout the world.

We must now mention its Adornments,27 and see where are its five Endowments (which you have said to be six 28), amongst which the CATHEDRA is the first; |65 and, since the second Endowment, which is the ‘Angelus,’ cannot be added unless a Bishop has sat on |66 the Cathedra,29 we must see who was the first to sit on the Cathedra, and where 30 he sat. If you do not know this, learn. If you do know, blush. Ignorance cannot be attributed to you—-it follows that you know.31 For one who knows, to err is sin. Those who do not know may sometimes be pardoned.32

You cannot then deny that you do know 33 that upon Peter first 34 in the City of Rome 35 was bestowed the Episcopal Cathedra,36 on which sat Peter, the Head of all the Apostles (for which reason he was called Cephas 37), |67 that, in this one Cathedra, unity should be preserved by all,38 lest the other Apostles might claim—-each for himself—-separate Cathedras, so that he who should set up a second Cathedra against the unique Cathedra 39 would already be a schismatic and a sinner. |68

Well then, on the one Cathedra, which is the first of the Endowments, Peter was the first to sit.

To Peter succeeded Linus, to Linus succeeded Clement, to Clement Anacletus, to Anacletus Evaristus, to Evaristus 41 Sixtus, to Sixtus Telesphorus, to Telesphorus Hyginus, to Hyginus Anacetus, to Anacetus Pius, to Pius Soter, to Soter Alexander, to Alexander Victor, to Victor Zephyrinus, to Zephyrinus Calixtus, to Calixtus Urban, to Urban Pontianus, to Pontianus Anterus, to Anterus Fabian, to Fabian Cornelius, to Cornelius Lucius, to Lucius Stephen, to Stephen Sixtus, to Sixtus Dionysius, to Dionysius Felix, to Felix Marcellinus, to Marcellinus Eusebius, to Eusebius Miltiades, to Miltiades Silvester, to Silvester Marcus, |69 to Marcus Julius, to Julius Liberius, to Liberius Damasus, to Damasus Siricius,42 who to-day is our colleague, with whom ‘the whole world,’ 43 through the intercourse of letters of peace,44 agrees with us in one bond of communion.45

Now do you show the origin of your Cathedra,46 you who wish to claim the Holy Church for yourselves!”


The last part can be reduced to two things

(1) The Fathers were not always consistent, and therefore cannot be counted as “rule”

(2) The Fathers, such as St. Athanasius, utilized Scripture as the source of finding the truth of Christ’s deity.

Your (2) is correct, and (1) is only somewhat correct. The Catholic Church does not teach in the infallibility of the Church fathers (I hope you realize), but only that where they unanimously agree (in a moral, not absolute, consensus) , this is a remote rule of faith. This is expounded at length in the Commonitorium of St. Vincent of Lerins (required reading for our day in age). We could compare this all once again to that Judaizing heresy in the 1st century. There were several who held to the idea that Gentiles must abide by the Sinai legislation in order to receive inclusion into the covenant of Christ. There were debates and inconsistencies, and often appeal to Scripture (no doubt Genesis 17-18, and various texts in the Pentateuch). And yet, you would say the Apostles were infallible during this period (say, the teaching of St. Paul prior to the Council of Jerusalem). But what do we see? We see an ecclesial action, a mode of deliberation wherefrom the apostles and elders both say “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us”, from which a Conciliar letter was produced and delivered to the churches as the final arbitration on the matter. *That* is what infallibility is. This divine assistance from the Spirit is what would continue on in the post apostolic church unto our very own day. So, I grant you certain inconsistencies and some explainable errors in the writings of the Fathers. But that does not get the ball to the yard-line that you think it does for the above reasons.

On St. Athanasius. You feel that by consulting Scripture, that Athanasius denied any sort of divine perpetuity to the Magisterium of the Church? That seems to be a logical problem, so let’s first deal with that. This sort of thinking is consonant with those who think in terms of exclusivity in God. For example, if God knows all things, why pray? Ergo, if I believe God knows all things, I will not pray. Or, if I do not pray, it is a sign that I believe God knows what I need already. But you are a wise enough Christian to know this can easily be nestled into a complementarian framework. In the same way, the Catholic Church offers the revelation of divine Scripture (for heaven’s sake, it is a source of divine revelation) as a way to arrive at the doctrine of Christ, and permits all to investigate and use the light of reason, history, grammatical science, etc,etc. to argue for the right interpretation. Athanasius especially, since he was a member of the sacred magisterium of bishops (of which he believed and spoke about on many occasions). So by one’s interpreting Scripture to arrive at the truth does not somehow illustrate a contra-belief in Papalism or Ecclesial-ism (i.e. perpetually protected magisterium). Rather, the Church’s magisterium requires that, while the Scripture is free to be interpreted (especially by bishops), the *final authoritative* interpretation of Scripture would be reserved to those modal acts of the Church whereby the voice of Christ is applied in the form of assistance to His bride. If you want references for this, I can provide.

A last illustration can be given, and which would more clearly illustrate the falsity of your construct here. Surely you admit that by Pope Leo IX, the Papal doctrines were widely promoted by the Latin West. And yet, throughout the whole of the 2nd millennium, up unto our very own day (Council of Vatican 2, 1960s), the Church has continued to gather together in Council in order to “co-judge” on matters of faith and morals. Does that mean that the Latin West never believed in the primacy or supremacy of the Pope? If you think this, a re-reading of Lyons (1274), Florence, Vatican I, and Vatican 2 are in order.


No, Fr Joseph Ratzinger Did Not Concede To The Eastern Orthodox Notion Of Ecclesial Authority, Part 2

In a popular book entitled The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church,  authored by Vittorio Messori, had a series of questions posed for then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, to which all his answers are scripted in the book. Many consult this text to find what they claim is an admission on the part of Ratzinger that the Eastern Orthodox are the ones who carry the torch of first millennium Christian beliefs. I quote the portion that is often used below.


We have already referred indirectly to the Eastern Orthodox Churches. What are relations like with them? 

‘Contacts with them are only superficially easier; in reality we are faced with grave problems. These Churches have an authentic doctrine, but it is static, petrified as it were. They remain faithful to the tradition of the first Christian millennium, but they reject later developments on the grounds that Catholics decided upon these developments without them. For them, questions of faith can only be decided by a “really ecumenical” council, i.e… one which includes all Christians. Therefore they regard as invalid what Catholics have declared since the split. In practice they are in agreement with much of what has been defined, but they see it as restricted to the Church dependent on Rome and not binding on them’

Here at least, surely, ecclesiology is not such an insuperable problem?

‘Yes and no. True, they share with us the conviction of the necessity of the apostolic succession; they have a genuine episcopate and Eucharist. But they cling to the idea of autocephaly, according to which the Churches, even if they are united in faith, are also independent from one another. They cannot accept that the bishop of Rome, the Pope, is the principle and center of unity in a universal Church understood as a communio'”

When Ratzinger says that the Orthodox have an “authentic doctrine“, and that “they remain faithful to the tradition of the first Christian millennium“, does he intend to mean that the Orthodox are the true bearers of Patristic Christianity; moreover, does he imply thereby that the Roman Catholic communion has abandoned this first millennium patrimony and has innovated brand new doctrines which are departures from the Patristic heritage? After all, he says of Catholic doctrine that they were “later developments“.

Let’s take a step back.

For Ratzinger, these “developments” that took place in the Latin West are not additions to the faith already held in the first millennium. For starters,  according to Ratzinger the very basis for primacy in the early church was quite different than what had evolved in Byzantium law, and it was this difference which mainly contributed to the original schism in ecclesiastical government (See here). Constantinople had wanted to see the political prestige of the Empire as the principal cause to the who and where of ecclesiastical precedence. That would indicate that for him, there is definitely a divergence theologically divergence between East and West right there in the first millennium. Secondly, in 1996, which is 10 years after the publication the first large quote is taken from, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith organized a doctrinal symposium on the Primacy of the Succesor of Peter held in the Vatican. This was in answer to the request of Pope St. John Paul II, who had stated in his famous Ut unum sint that Catholics should “find a way of exercising the primacy which, while in no way renouncing what is essential to its mission, is nonetheless open to a new situation“.(John Paul II, Encyc. Let. Ut unum sint, 25 May 1995, n. 95).  Ratzinger wrote a document while prefect of the Congregation summarizing that Symposium and of interest is a portion wherein he quotes St. John Paul II, and then gives his own thought:

“In his Message to those attending the symposium, the Holy Father [St. JP II] 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“.

So here we see an explicit statement from. Ratzinger which demonstrates he believed that these developments were actually a way to preserve the Apostolic tradition and faith of the fathers.

Some might read the statements made in the quote from the Ratzinger Report and recall other statements that Ratzinger made in Principles of Catholic Theology (1982) :

““Nor is it possible, on the other hand, for him to regard as the only possible form and, consequently, as binding on all Christians the form this primacy has taken in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.  The symbolic gestures of Pope Paul VI and, in particular, his kneeling before the representative of the Ecumenical Patriarch were an attempt to express precisely this……..In other words, Rome must not require more from the East with respect to the doctrine of the primacy than had been formulated and was lived in the first millennium.  When the Patriarch Athenagoras designated him as the successor of St. Peter, as the most esteemed among us, as one who presides in charity, this great Church leader was expressing the ecclesial content of the doctrine of the primacy as it was known in the first millennium.  Rome need not ask for more” (page 198-99)

Boom. Right?

Not so. In Part One, we already saw what Ratzinger thought about this Athenagorian designation (i.e. presides in charity and first in honor), and it most certainly was not that the *content* of it was reflecting the Eastern Orthodox idea of autocephaly, which Ratzinger not only implies is out of step with the tradition, but is explicitly wrong.  Ratzinger had then explained (2001) that the basic concept of the Vatican’s definition on primacy can be traced back to this notion of “presiding in charity“, when understood correctly, and that the 2nd millennial exercise of the Patristic notion of Papal primacy is what made such a stark differentiation. If one were to subtract the Latin developments, you still have, per Ratzinger, the roots of Papal primacy in the first millennium, albeit practiced in a different manner.  So here he is not saying that the Patriarch already fulfilled the conditions for a proper belief in the Papal primacy, but that his statements themselves can , once integrated into a historical interpretation, reflect the content of what can be shown to be in continuity with the later developments. So when he says that the Catholic Church cannot require more from the East, he does not mean to suggest that the Eastern Orthodox *already meet those requirements* as reflected in the Patriarch’s intention, but rather that the bare words themselves, when understood properly, tend towards the essential equivalent of what Catholics themselves believe, minus the 19th and 20th century developments.

But there is still more to quote. Ratzinger goes on the in the same work (Pg 216-17):

“Patriarch Athenagoras spoke even more strongly when he greeted the Pope in Phanar: ‘Against all expectation, the bishop of Rome is among us, the first among us in honor, ‘he who presides in love’.’  It is clear that, in saying this, the Patriarch did not abandon the claims of the Eastern Churches or acknowledge the primacy of the west.  Rather, he stated plainly what the East understood as the order, the rank and title, of the equal bishops in the Church – and it would be worth our while to consider whether this archaic confession, which has nothing to do with the ‘primacy of jurisdiction’ but confesses a primacy of ‘honor’ and agape, might not be recognized as a formula that adequately reflects the position that Rome occupies in the Church..'” .

Here again, the idea is not that the concept held by the Eastern Patriarch is the correct one, but that the formula itself could be assimilated to explain the roots of what were later developed as Catholic dogma on the primacy of the Pope.

In the Report, however, Ratzinger had further critiqued the Orthodox ecclesiology when he said:

These Churches have an authentic doctrine, but it is static, petrified as it were. They remain faithful to the tradition of the first Christian millennium, but they reject later developments on the grounds that Catholics decided upon these developments without them…….They have a genuine episcopate and Eucharist. But they cling to the idea of autocephaly, according to which the Churches, even if they are united in faith, are also independent from one another..”

Obviously, Ratzinger does not believe the theory of autocephalous churches is a faithful representation of the Church’s tradition, and thus he is not implying that the Orthodox are faithful in that regard. His view, therefore, is that the Orthodox have embraced the first millennium tradition of doctrine, i.e. the 7 Ecumenical Councils. This is clear since the rejection of the Latin developments are partly on the basis of them not being “Ecumenical” for the Orthodox. The implication here is that what they *do accept* is what has historically been accepted in the context of both East and West, which would be the Council list of Nicaea I to Nicaea II. That said, Ratzinger would still say that the modern Orthodox have not understood the authentic and genuine development of the Catholic dogma of primacy, which itself is even reflected, at least in the bare text , in the terminology that the modern day Orthodox [Patriarch Athenogoras] are willing to use in reference to the place of the Pope.

One last point – The dates of these material should also be consulted. Often enough we hear of people say  Pope Benedict XVI had believed that the Orthodox were faithful to the first Christian millennium, without any care to elaborate on what he means, when he said this, if he was Pope at the time, etc,etc. In fact, two works Principles of Catholic Theology and The Ratzinger Report were both published in the 1980’s. The document Ratzinger wrote as Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith was written in 1996, and the letter to Metropolitan Damaskinos quoted from in Part One was written in 2001 , only four years before he entered the Papal office. I think therefore that Part One should be consulted as the latest word of the Pope explicitly on what he thinks about the Eastern Orthodox ecclesiology and the components therein that he feels can be managed to work a reconciliation of theology.  But even then, one does not detect a break, but only a growth in clarity.

No, Fr Joseph Ratzinger Did Not Concede To The Eastern Orthodox Notion Of Ecclesial Authority, Part 1

In my dialogue with Eastern Orthodox, a great many have thought it appropriate to appeal to Fr Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, whom they interpret as saying that Eastern Orthodox are really the one’s who have kept to the sacred tradition of the Apostles and the holy Church. I have here below a portion of a letter written on February 20, 2001 by Fr. Ratzinger to Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland, and in it he describes how it is that the Papal dogma of primacy of jurisdiction, in its essential concept, has its roots in Patristic theology and can be re-shaped to match the language and thinking of the early church fathers. He also makes it clear that the theory of the Papacy was not innovated during the emergence of the second millennium, but that the way in which it was exercised had drastically changed.  At no point does he concede that the Orthodox ecclesiology is a better reflection or is in deeper continuity with the ancient fathers. One last point, and then you can read from the genius himself, will be to offer a brief reflection on how this concurs with my own research. In the Patristics, we get this idea that the Church of Christ is one, and that it is a visible communion expressed in a shared creed of faith, sacramental cult, and governmental discipline (i.e. the order of bishops). From the same, we also read of an institution which serves to sustain a unity to this communion or ecclesial society, and that institution is the primacy of St. Peter, whose responsibilities for this end were passed to his successors in the bishopric of Rome. It is precisely because of this responsibility to unify the churches that the primacy must be one with the character of authority, i.e. the keys of the church. If it is the Roman see whose communion is the standard of catholicity, then there must be a right granted to the Pope to determine the conditions (faith/morals/discipline) for entry, maintenance, and/or excommunication from that communion. Otherwise, as Fr. Ratzinger tells us, the Pope would be restricted to being as all the other bishops are, and thus giving the potential of fragmenting into divisions, since his voice would be incapable of creating a definitive bind. I plan to write more on this with ample justification from the fathers.



To His Eminence
Metropolitan Damaskinos of Switzerland
February 20, 2001

………..And so at least I come to your questions, and I am beginning with the ‘main obstacle’ to the full restoration of unity, the pope’s primacy of jurisdiction, where you highlighted in particular the difficulties in the formula iurusdictio in omnes ecclesias [jurisdiction in all chuches]. I should like to distinguish two aspects of this thorny problem, which we certainly cannot resolve in our exchange of letters.
First, there is, it seems to me, above all a problem of language. The concept of a jurisdiction over the whole Church, and, indeed, the legal terminology of the second millennium as such, is foreign to the East and disturbs people whenever they are aware of it. I believe it is right and also possible to trace the essential concepts, and especially those that are proving to be an obstacle, back to their basis in Patristic theology and, in that way, not only to make them more comprehensible, but also of course to discover starting points for a usage more in keeping with the thinking of the fathers. You remind me of the unforgettable address of Patriarch Athenagoras, on the occasion of Pope Paul VI’s visit to Phanar, when the Patriarch applied to the Pope the titles from the Patristic era, ‘first in honor‘, and ‘president in love‘. I believe that we could correctly define ‘jurisdiction over the whole church’ on that basis: the ‘honor’ of the first is not, indeed, to be understood in the sense of the honor accorded by worldly protocol; honor in the Church is service, obedience to Christ. Then again, agape is not just a feeling entailing no obligations, still less a form of social organization, but is in the final analysis a eucharistic concept, which is as such connected to the theology of the cross, since the Eucharist is based on the cross; the Cross is the most extreme expression of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
If the Church in the very depth of her being coincides with the Eucharist, then the presidency of love carries with it a responsibility for unity, which has a significance within the Church yet, at the same time, is a responsibility for ‘distinguishing what is Christian’ as against worldly society, and therefore it will always bear a martyrological character. You know that a little while ago (in the course of the dispute over woman’s ordination), I tried to interpret the ministry of the pope as a ministry of obedience, with him as the guarantor of obedience: the pope is not an absolute monarch whose will is law, but quite the opposite — he always has to try and resist arbitrary self-well and to call the Church back to the standard of obedience; therefore, however he must himself be first in obedience…. A Patristic interpretation of the primacy is in any case encouraged by the First Vatican Council itself, when it says that the constant practice of the Church stands for the teaching proclaimed there, as do the ecumenical councils, especially those in which East and West met together in unity of faith and love; here Vatican I refers to the Fourth Council of Constantinople (DS 3065f).
The second point I should like to mention here concers the distinction between theory and practice — or perhaps, better, the span of dogma in practice. In his encyclical Ut Unum Sint, the Pope pointed this out and asks for suggestions for a renewal of the practice of primacy. Here, as ever, history is instructive. R. Schieffer, who presided over the Monumenta Germaniae historica, writes in one place in this connection, ‘that at the moment of passing from the first to the second millennium of Church history a qualitative leap was made, not in the theory of primacy, but in the way people dealt with it‘.
You will permit me to add one more personal reflection. The primacy — Paul VI himself said it — is in certain respects the ‘main obstacle’ to the restoration to full communion. Yet it is at the same time the main opportunity for this, because without it the Catholic Church would long ago have fallen apart into national churches and churches of this or that rite, which would make it impossible to gain any general view of the ecumenical landscape, and because the primacy makes it possible to take definite steps toward unity. You recently referred to this yourself in an important article, pointing out that it will be of decisive importance to the future of Orthodoxy to find an appropriate solution to the problem of autocephalous churches, so that Orthodoxy’s inner unity and its capacity for common action should not be lost or, perhaps, that is may be restored. I believe that the problem of autocephaslous churches shows the necessity for an instrument of unity, which must of course be correctly balanced with independent responsibility of the local churches: the Church cannot and should not be a papal monarchy but has her points of orientation in the communion of the bishops, within which there is a ministry of their unity among themselves — that is, a ministry that does not do away with the responsibility of the bishops, but is directed toward that end. ” (Pilgrim Fellowship of Faith: The Church as Communion, page 232-235)