Studies On the Early Papacy – A Must Read for Church History GeeksJan 7th, 2013 | By Jeremy Tate | Category: Blog Posts
For many Reformed believers, the authority of the papacy throughout Church history offers the most salient and visible reminder of separation. Whereas many of the theological issues separating Catholic and Reformed Christians concern different understandings of similar doctrines, the question of the papacy can only be answered with a bold rejection or acceptance. The rejection of papal authority by Reformed believers, however, requires taking a critical position toward some of the greatest theologians in Church History (such as Athanasius, Augustine, and Jerome). It requires believing that these great saints and Doctors of the Church were fundamentally wrong about God’s provision for ensuring the preservation of the true apostolic faith.
Around the turn of the 20th century some Anglican scholars began a revived effort to demonstrate that in the early Church the Roman See never possessed the authority that Rome would later claim for itself. It was to these claims that Fr. Dom John Chapman, himself a convert to Catholicism from Anglicanism, penned his work Studies on the Early Papacy. Chapman divides the book into eight large chapters that are all true to their names; The Growth of the Patriarchates, St. Cyprian on the Church, St. Athanasius and Pope Julius I, St. Chrysostom on St. Peter, St. Jerome and Rome, The Condemnation of Pelagianism, Apiarius, and The Age of Justinian. A large percentage of the word count in each chapter comes from direct and extensive quotations from the major participants in the controversies Chapman discusses. For this reason Chapman includes many passages that are not easily found in translation elsewhere. For some Reformed readers, these passages may be shocking. Especially in seminary circles where professors are unlikely to expose their students to extensive passages where men like St. Augustine affirm the authority of the papacy, these texts may be a bit unnerving.
For Reformed readers, Chapman’s chapter entitled “The Condemnation of Pelagianism” may be of particular interest as some Reformed scholars view Augustine’s leadership in the condemnation of Pelagianism as a precursor to concepts of salvific grace embraced within Reformed theology. Having studied the Pelagian controversy myself as a seminary student I still did not realize until reading Chapman that Augustine relied heavily on the authority of the Pope during his theological battles. In fact, Augustine felt so indebted to the Pope as the controversy subsided that he went on to dedicate the four books Contra duas Epistolas Pelagianorum to Pope Boniface. In the following excerpt, provided by Chapman, Augustine’s recognition and love for the pope’s authority is undeniable:
I knew, by the voice of fame, and frequent and trustworthy messengers had brought me word, blessed and venerable Pope Boniface, how full you are of the grace of God… Since the heretics do not cease to rage against the fold of the Lord’s flock, and search all around for entrance, that they may tear to pieces the sheep bought at so great a price, and since the pastoral watchtower is common to all of us who fill the episcopal office (in which you, however, are lifted on a loftier pinnacle)… I have decided to send to your holiness, not that you may learn from it, but that you may examine it, and, whosesoever anything may chance to displease you, correct it.
As a former Reformed seminary student myself, I think Studies on the Early Papacy would be an especially excellent read for Protestant seminary students. In my experience, many Reformed seminarians tend not to read required course texts outside their own Protestant tradition even while studying distinctly Catholic dogma. This is an odd phenomenon. Consider an analogy; could someone get an accurate understanding of global climate change while only reading from a handful of authors who all reject the idea of global climate change? In the same way, investigating the truth about the role of the papacy in preserving the orthodoxy of the Church requires reading from some of the best Church historians who actually believe in the divinely established authority of the Pope. For students of Church history willing to take an honest look at the papacy in the ancient Church, this work by Dom John Chapman is an excellent place to start.
If you are interested in ordering the book click on the following link.