It is still surprising when I read the Protestant polemical argument that runs as follows, "There is no such thing as a consensus among the fathers. The early church was a patchwork of ideas, a melting pot of doctrines." It is sad that many Christians have fallen into this charade of smoke and mirrors regarding their rich heritage. That this is a scam, a ruse of sorts to kick sand in the eyes of the ignorant is readily seen in the similar tactics employed by the theological cult, the so-called "Jehovas Witnesses." Their M.O. is analagous to the forlorness seen in some Protestant apologists. Ask a "J. Witness" why believe in their particular religion in contrast to the historic Catholic faith and they will answer,
"The Apostles and Jesus Christ were Jehovas Witnesses. But, quickly after their passing the early church fathers fell into darkness, confusion and man-made traditions. There is no such thing as unanymity in the fathers, that's a fantasy. It is not until 1872 that "Pastor" Charles Taze Russell re-discovered this pristine Christian faith in it's truest form."
Does this sophistry sound familiar? This desperation, this historical-revisionism is all too familiar in the schismatic branches of Christianity, the heterodox circles and the suicidal cults. In contrast to all these parlor tricks' stands the quiet and unanimous voice of the Catholic fathers which are beautifully enshrined in Catholic doctrine. The best minds the world has ever known have been Catholic, both theological (St. Augustine and St. Aquinas) and philosophical (Descartes, Leibnitz, Pascal) 1.
From the immense body of doctrine known as historic Christianity, I will choose the holy Eucharist as an example of the monolithic nature of the patristic fathers 2.
· St. Ignatius, blessed martyr and bishop of Antioch writes in the first century that the Eucharist in contrast from mere bread and body is the actual Body and Blood of our Lord,
"I have no taste for corruptible food nor for the pleasures of this life. I desire the Bread of God, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire His Blood, which is love incorruptible." 3
· St. Justin Martyr is clear and cannot be mistaken. Instead of squabbling over the meaning of the Eucharist as Luther and Zwingli, Justin concurs with St. Ignatius and the orthodox interpretation (regula fidei),
"We do not recieve these as common bread or common drink. But just as our Savior Jesus Christ was made flesh through the Word of God and had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food which has been eucharistized by the Eucaharistic prayer from Him (that food which by change nourishes our flesh and blood) is the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus." 4
This understanding of the real and literal presence of Jesus our God and Lamb of the world is continued in an unbroken line of the patristic fathers; (St. Clement of Alexandria, (Paedagogus. 2, 2, 20), St. Irenaeus, (Adversus haerses. 4, 18, 4), Tertullian, (De carnis resurrectione. 8), St. Cyprian, (De lapsis. 25)).
I conclude with St. Cyril of Jerusalem who passes on the tradition of the fathers concerning the ancient and apostolic understanding of the Eucharist,
"the apparent bread is not bread, even though it is sensible to the taste, but the body of Christ, and that the apparent wine is not wine, even though the taste would have it so." 5
This is but one example of the long litany of doctrines that can be proven to be held in one accord by the Catholic fathers. The honest reader free of bias and theological distortion can let the fathers speak for themselves in context.
1. The incomparable influence of Catholicism on civilization is beautifully captured in visual form at -http://www.catholicscomehome.org/ (browse to the bottom left trailer entitled "epic).
2. And even here a relatively short list of the fathers will be given (mainly the earliest of the Catholic fathers). A full presentation far exceeds the scope of this brief article but I am confident that the sample given suffices.
3. (Epistula ad Romanos. 7, 3).
4. (Apologia prima pro Christianis. 66, 2).
5. (Cat. 22, 1).