How Quickly Catholic Heresy Took Over the Church (Immediately)

Nov 9th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Brantly Millegan at ‘Young Evangelical and Catholic’ has posted something worth visiting here.

St. Justin Martyr

When I started taking a closer look at the early church while still a Presbyterian I remember encountering what I considered a lot of ‘Catholic stuff.’ It happened innocently enough. For example, I would be reading the “Confessions” of St. Augustine and would encounter a scene where Augustine describes the relics of martyrs being venerated thorughout the city by Christians and I would stop and think, “Did I really just read that? I thought Augustine was a Reformed father!?” Before long, I realized that much of that ‘Catholic stuff’ was found in the early church well before my ‘Presbyterian stuff.’

Brantly has given a chronological outline which identifies the year when a particular ‘extra biblical’ witness relating to Christian doctrine was first recorded.

(A.D. 33 – death and resurrection of Christ)
A.D. 90 – the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice
(A.D. 95 – death of the last apostle, John)
A.D. 95 – apostolic succession
A.D. 110 – real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
A.D. 110 – the necessity of bishops to the Church, and the necessity of submitting to bishops
A.D. 150 – baptismal regeneration and the necessity of baptism for salvation
A.D. 150 – basic structure of the Mass as Christian worship
A.D. 155 – veneration of saints and their relics
A.D. 160 – Mary as the New Eve
A.D. 170 – use of the word ‘Trinity’
A.D. 180 – primacy of the bishop of Rome
A.D. 200 – ‘Trinity’, ‘Person’, ‘Substance’ formula
A.D. 367 – today’s 27 book New Testament canon

A.D. 1500s – Protestant Reformation

The bold doctrines are those held by Protestants and Catholics alike. The non-bold are examples of doctrines that most Protestants argue that Catholics got wrong. Those in (…) reflect historical events where there is no dispute.

Brantly discusses each point further in his post, which I recommend visiting.

When I was discovering the early church, what made an impression upon me was that “if all of those beliefs which most evangelicals tend to view as sure markers of the obviously perverted corruption of the Catholic Church were already there, then the same Church that settled the New Testament canon and fought the Trinitarian and Christological fights of the early Church was already well immersed in corruption, superstition, and heresy.”

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  1. A.D. 90 – the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice – that Catholic teaching is supported by a quote from the Didache:

    “But every Lord’s day gather yourselves together, and break bread, and give thanksgiving after having confessed your transgressions, that your sacrifice may be pure.”

    Confessing transgressions before receiving the Holy Sacrifice – that sounds pretty Catholic to me. The Didache or “Teaching of the Lord to the Gentiles (or Nations) by the Twelve Apostles” is the earliest catechism known to exist. It was used to teach catechumens that desired to become members of a visible church that was governed by bishops appointed by the Apostles. It seem to me that it would be difficult to deny that the church that these catechumens wished to join was the church that Christ personally founded, since the Didache was composed in the time between these two historical events:

    (A.D. 33 – death and resurrection of Christ)

    and

    (A.D. 95 – death of the last apostle, John)

    But of course, it is denied by all Protestants that the Catholic Church is the church founded by Christ.

    How Quickly Catholic Heresy Took Over the Church (Immediatly)” – Immediately indeed, because if the Didache is wrong, then those darn Catholics had begun corrupting what the church that Christ founded really taught before the Apostolic age had ended!

    When I was discovering the early church, what made an impression upon me was that “if all of those beliefs which most evangelicals tend to view as sure markers of the obviously perverted corruption of the Catholic Church were already there, then the same Church that settled the New Testament canon and fought the Trinitarian and Christological fights of the early Church was already well immersed in corruption, superstition, and heresy.”

    Not only that, but the Catholics have been able to maintain those “corruptions, superstitions, and heresies” unchanged for over two-thousand years, which is remarkable feat for a Church that is allegedly opposed to what the Holy Spirit would have us believe. Which makes me wonder, if the Holy Spirit is really guiding the children of the Reformers into all that Jesus revealed (John 14:26), then why have they fragmented into thousands upon thousands of divided sects that, as a whole, do not profess even one doctrine of Christianity in common?

    I think that the most powerful argument that one can give against Protestantism is the reality of Protestantism itself – the reality that Protestantism, as it exists in our era, is a chaos of thousands upon thousands of divided sects that teach contradictory doctrine. If Protestantism was some monolithic entity that stood for something that could be identified, instead of being a group of divided sects that teach anything and everything, then, perhaps, I could take the claims of Protestantism more seriously. But Protestantism, as it exists today, does not hold anything in common, except the belief that the Catholics, who have consistently maintained the beliefs taught in the early church, are wrong because they believe what was taught in the early church. The Catholics are wrong because they cling to those beliefs, instead of professing belief in the novelties taught by the Reformers, and these were novelties that contradicted novelties!

  2. One thing that impressed me was if the Church fell apart so quickly after Jesus founded it, what hope can one founded by a mere human like Calvin, Wesley, or Luther have? Sure enough, there are many things that Calvin, Wesley, or Luther held that most modern Protestants would wince at….But these might be “non-essentials” so I ignored this.

    I also ignored the evidence you provided, since those comes from documents that the Catholic Church preserved, so we have no idea what the general practice was. The Bible was a general reference we do have and they seemed to be more Protestant than Catholic.

    I also noticed that the Eastern Orthodox (who separated long before the middle ages) and the Oriental Orthodox, who separated soon after Constantine and some of whom were far outside the reach of Rome (e.g. India) held the same doctrines as Catholics do that Protestants dispute. This is something that I couldn’t ignore.

    I especially couldn’t ignore the Liturgy of the Early Church, particularly the Liturgy of St. James (which is dated about 60A.D, the time of composition of Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans). It’s clearly Catholic and Orthodox and was used in Jerusalem long before the Bible was finished and no reference in the Bible is given as condemning it.

  3. Hey Anil Wang,

    Great points. I have one comment though:

    “I also ignored the evidence you provided, since those comes from documents that the Catholic Church preserved, so we have no idea what the general practice was. The Bible was a general reference we do have and they seemed to be more Protestant than Catholic.”
    The Bible was also preserved and passed down by the Catholic Church. I guess most Protestants don’t think of it that way, but it is of course the case.

  4. Hi Brantly Millegan,

    You’re right. It goes back to Martin Luther and his belief that councils and the Magesterium are fallible (and indeed had made “obvious” mistakes in his eyes) so the only thing you can rely on is the Bible as a testimony to the faith of the Early Church that was accepted by the whole Church and we can confirm that older copies of the Bible match the current Bible.

    Of course, there is a question of the possible “extra books” of the *New Testament* which Martin Luther and R.C. Sproul and Dr. John Gerstner pointed out (“The Bible is a fallible collection of infallible books.”), but if you can’t trust the Bible or the Church, what can you trust?

    You’ll have to go the way of Bart Erhman and just give up on true Christianity as being lost to history…something anyone who loves and believes in Christ will refuse to do.

  5. Very interesting points, my question is: What about the doctrines of grace which were held in the early Catholic church but are not held today? Augustine talks about Original Sin, St. Thomas Aquinas advocates for predestination. Shouldn’t the modern day Roman Catholic Church hold a Calvinistic view on predestination?

    “It is fitting that God should predestine men. For all things are subject to His providence, as was shown above (Question 22, Article 2). Now it belongs to providence to direct things towards their end, as was also said (22, 1, 2). The end towards which created things are directed by God is twofold; one which exceeds all proportion and faculty of created nature; and this end is life eternal, that consists in seeing God which is above the nature of every creature, as shown above ”

    St Thomas Aquinas- Summa Theologica
    (I am tempted to post all Aquina’s statements on predestination, I will however give you the URL- http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1023.htm)

    This was written well before the Protestant Reformation, and is a doctrine which advocates Sola Gratia- by Justification by faith- The same doctrine that the Catholic monk Martin Luther fought for.

    My question is, the Catholic Communion in general has swayed to a form of semi-pelagianism- How do you respond to Catholic saints advocating the doctrine of predestination? And why is their view different than today’s view?

  6. Hello Jordan.

    Thanks for your comments.

    I don’t have time this weekend to answer each of your questions in any detail other than to say that Aquinas’ teaching on predestination (Thomism) is perfectly fine to hold as a Catholic. Calvin departed from Aquinas and Augustine in several very important ways.

    I suggest you peruse the archive and visit previous discussions that covered your question. I think most of your comment would be addressed if you look under the heading ‘salvation.’

    You might start with, Is the Catholic Church Semi-Pelagian? Or, Signs of Predestination.

  7. Jordan: re#5

    The Catholic Church teaches predestination, but not the double predestination of Calvin. See CCC 600 as a start.

    The Catholic Church teaches that initial justification is solely the work of grace, and is accepted by faith – by cooperating with the actual grace we all receive – through the sacrament of Baptism for those above the age reason. Before the age of reason, the fruits of the sacrament are conferred through the assent of the child’s parents. But the doctrine of grace is more complex and nuanced than the Protestant view that it is only “divine favor.” So Aquinas’ view of grace includes, in a certain way, things Luther would have agreed with, and also includes sanctifying grace, a distinctively Catholic doctrine. Luther’s view of human nature did not allow for us to be transformed by (sanctifying) grace, only “covered” by the righteousness of Christ – a legal fiction, if you will – that would seem to make God a liar when he says (to some, at least) “well done, good and faithful servant.”

    You claim that the Catholic “Communion” in general has swayed to a form of semi-Pelagianism. First, what is this Catholic “Communion” you refer to? I know of no such Church body. Second, in what specific practices or doctrines do you believe you find this semi-Pelagianism?

    Pax Christi,
    Frank La Rocca

  8. Thomas Aquinas does in fact teach double predestination- (or reprobation as it is called)

    God does reprobate some. For it was said above (Article 1) that predestination is a part of providence. To providence, however, it belongs to permit certain defects in those things which are subject to providence, as was said above (Question 22, Article 2). Thus, as men are ordained to eternal life through the providence of God, it likewise is part of that providence to permit some to fall away from that end; this is called reprobation. Thus, as predestination is a part of providence, in regard to those ordained to eternal salvation, so reprobation is a part of providence in regard to those who turn aside from that end. Hence reprobation implies not only foreknowledge, but also something more, as does providence, as was said above (Question 22, Article 1). Therefore, as predestination includes the will to confer grace and glory; so also reprobation includes the will to permit a person to fall into sin, and to impose the punishment of damnation on account of that sin.

    ~Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica

    Double predestination is not God taking pleasure in the damnation of some, but God allowing it to happen because of the effects of sin. You cannot predestine some without reprobating the others. Reprobation is simply the act of leaving a sinner to his own means.

    Pelagianism is man able to work out his own salvation regardless of God’s grace. Semi-pelagianism is mans ability to work out his salvation by the help of God’s grace (a combination of Augustinianism and Pelagianism). Augustinianism is man’s radical inability to work out his own salvation unless divine intervention by God’s grace.

    If one holds to a Aquinas” view of predestination he should also hold to Sola Fide. If God predestines anyone to salvation, it is by God’s grace alone and not our own works.

    I believe the Catholic position of merit and good works as a cause for salvation contradicts Augustine’s view on salvation. Good works are a result of salvation not a cause.

    If the Catholic Church held to that doctrine (the doctrine that caused the Reformation), I think there would be a lot more Catholics out there.

  9. Jordan Born,

    Pope Benedict XVI aptly put:

    “Being just simply means being with Christ, being in Christ, that is all. The other precepts are no longer necessary. Luther’s expression ‘sola fide’ is true, if faith is not against charity, against love. To believe is to see Christ, to trust in Christ, to become attached to Christ, to conform to Christ, to his life.”

    We agree with sola fide if it is not against charity. Let us not forget that the formal cause of the schism–that which continually under the efficient causality of the heretic is able to produce various material heresies–is sola scriptura. I think that heresy (sola scriptura), not sola fide, is what keeps many out of the Church. The final cause of which, or that for which the efficient cause acts, is the “primacy of the individual conscience over the Church”. Let us hope and pray that for those that hold back from full communion with the Catholic Church for merely the misunderstanding of what sola fide entails could work profitably towards full communion. For that, thank you for your comments.

    To bring this back on topic, the Protestant would need to prove that (1) the primacy of the individual conscience over the Church, (2) sola scriptura and (3) sola fide as understood opposed to charity were a part of the original deposit of faith either explicitly or implicitly, and, that such basic tenets of Christianity were abandoned almost immediately by the early Church. There are a number of articles on this site that attest to just the opposite.

    Peace to you on your journey,

    Brent

  10. Jordan.

    One more note…

    Bryan has just posted a summary of lectures related to predestination here. God bless.

    Sean

  11. Jordan, (re: #5)

    Welcome to Called To Communion.

    You wrote:

    What about the doctrines of grace which were held in the early Catholic church but are not held today? Augustine talks about Original Sin, St. Thomas Aquinas advocates for predestination. Shouldn’t the modern day Roman Catholic Church hold a Calvinistic view on predestination?

    On original sin, see “Lawrence Feingold on Original Justice and Original Sin,” and “Protestant Objections to the Catholic Doctrines of Original Justice and Original Sin.” If you have questions or objections to the Catholic doctrine of original sin, I recommend directing them to that latter thread.

    On predestination, see “Lawrence Feingold: A Catholic Understanding of Predestination and Perseverance.” I recommend directing your comments on predestination to that thread.

    You wrote:

    and is a doctrine which advocates Sola Gratia- by Justification by faith- The same doctrine that the Catholic monk Martin Luther fought for.

    No, they are different in important respects. St. Augustine and St. Thomas taught that man has the ability to cooperate with grace. They also affirmed a distinction between actual grace and sanctifying grace, a distinction which the early Protestants did not recognize. On the distinction between sanctifying grace and actual grace see “Lawrence Feingold on Sanctifying Grace and Actual Grace.”

    You wrote:

    My question is, the Catholic Communion in general has swayed to a form of semi-pelagianism-

    See Tim’s “Is the Catholic Church Semi-Pelagian?

    In comment #8 you wrote:

    Double predestination is not God taking pleasure in the damnation of some, but God allowing it to happen because of the effects of sin.

    No, that’s not what is traditionally meant by “double-predestination.” See my comment #8 in the “Predestination: John Calvin vs. Thomas Aquinas” thread.

    You wrote:

    Semi-pelagianism is mans ability to work out his salvation by the help of God’s grace (a combination of Augustinianism and Pelagianism).

    No, that’s never been the definition of Semi-pelagianism. Semi-pelagianism is the notion that man, unassisted by grace, makes the first movement toward God, who then responds with grace needed to attain salvation.

    If one holds to a Aquinas” view of predestination he should also hold to Sola Fide.

    That conclusion does not follow; see the articles linked to above.

    If God predestines anyone to salvation, it is by God’s grace alone and not our own works.

    Again, see “Lawrence Feingold: A Catholic Understanding of Predestination and Perseverance.”

    You wrote:

    I believe the Catholic position of merit and good works as a cause for salvation contradicts Augustine’s view on salvation. Good works are a result of salvation not a cause.

    On the doctrine of merit, see “The Doctrine of Merit: Feingold, Calvin, and the Church Fathers.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  12. Sean,
    Could you please give specific references for these?

    A.D. 90 – the Lord’s Supper as a sacrifice
    (Mateo says it is in the Didache – but one could argue that is just using the language as Matthew 5:21-26 is using – “sacrifice” meaning “worship” – before you worship, confess your sins. Not really giving a direct clear evidence of the Lord’s supper as a sacrifice in the way that Rome defines it.

    A.D. 95 – apostolic succession
    (You have to show it as an infallible office passed down, not just successors to elders and the apostles. Protestants believe in church leaders as successors also – Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5-7)

    A.D. 110 – real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
    A.D. 110 – the necessity of bishops to the Church, and the necessity of submitting to bishops
    (this one I can guess is Ignatius’ letters)

    A.D. 150 – baptismal regeneration and the necessity of baptism for salvation
    A.D. 150 – basic structure of the Mass as Christian worship
    A.D. 155 – veneration of saints and their relics
    A.D. 160 – Mary as the New Eve
    A.D. 180 – primacy of the bishop of Rome

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