Friday, July 18, 2008

Eusebius, The Fathers and the Nature of the Church.

Eusebius Pamphilus's1 Ecclesiastical History2 is one of the few books that I consistently re-read every year. The reason is clear to anyone that has plunged headlong into this magnificent account of the history of the early Church, starting from Jesus and His Apostles and ending with the events and personages surrounding the Council of Nicea. Besides the treasure of information on early patristics, theology and ecclesiology what I find stunning is the testimonies of the early martyr's, how they gave up their lives for Jesus Christ.

What caught my attention today was the following discussion on the nature of the sects by

"Indeed, the machinations of its (the orthodox truth) enemies were almost immediately extinguished by the power of truth; one sect rising after another, the first always passing away, and one in one way, and another in another, evaporating into speculations of many modes, and as many forms. But the splendour of the universal and only true Church constantly advanced in greatness and glory, always the same in all matters." (p. 134)

Thus Eusebius teaches us that the nature of the sects is that of schism. As soon as one branch comes into existence through the mind of an innovator another branch dies out or fades into obscurity. The opposite of all this is the nature of the One, Universal (Catholic) Church. It exists through time and space, from it's humble beginnings in the small stone houses of Jerusalem to it's ever growing branches that will house all the birds of the field. The blessed and ancient bishop of Antioch St. Ignatius wrote,

"Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church." (Epistulae ad Smyrnaeos. 8, 2)

St. Clement of Alexandria in like manner can state that the Church is inseparable since it has as it's guardian and fountain the indivisible Trinity (Paedagogus. 1, 4, 10). The "Catholic Church" alone holds the true apostolic doctrine, since it houses the predestined elect of God (Stromata. 7, 17). For Tertullian the Catholic Church is led under the banner of One God and One Christ, one hope under one baptism, held by the whole world unanimously, she is the very bride of Solomon's Song, domina matter ecclesia (De Virg. vel. 2, 2). The Bishop of Carthage - St. Cyprian agrees with the Regula Fidei and warns to separate oneself from the Catholic Church is to separate oneself from the truth (Letter of Cyprian to Stephen of Rome. 68, 1). St. Cyril of Jerusalem exhorts us,

"And if ever you are visiting in cities, do not inquire simply where the House of the Lord is, - for others, sects of the impious, attempt to call their dens the Houses of the Lord, - Nor ask merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the name peculiar to this holy Church, the Mother of us all, which is the spouse of our Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God." (Catecheses. 18, 26).

The historic, orthodox faith is monolithic, one in nature in contrast to the schismatics who cannot agree even on the little issues. St. Augustine of Hippo records that the Catholic faith unlike the schismatics promulgates the entire council of God not just selected portions to fit erroneous theologies (Ep. 92, 23). Furthermore, her validity is based on her world wide accepted extension (Ib. 49, 3) in contrast to the single localities of the sects (Serm. 46, 18).


[End Notes.]

1. Famous bishop of Caesarea who was active in the late third and early fourth centuries. Best known for this early history of the Catholic Church from the time of Apostles up too the Council of Nicea. He took the name Pamphilus in honor of his teacher and mentor. Embroiled in the Arian battles he is sometimes looked upon with suspicion for showing kindness to Arius and other times accused of holding a neo-Arian understanding of the Divinity of Jesus. It seems however that perhaps these labels have been politically motivated by his detractors. I have not read anything in his surviving writings that confirms Arian tendencies but have witnessed just the opposite, very Orthodox. He was made perfect in 310 A.D. under the Diocletian persecution.

2. Currently using Baker's 13th print edition, 1989. Not the prettiest edition and weak notes much better editions exist.


Tim A. Troutman said...

Insightful post.

No branch theory of the Church can account for the early Church's vision of "Church". Perhaps they were all wrong, but one Church still fits all the criteria (and only one). If the saints of the first 1,000 years of Christianity were right on this issue at all, then it must be the Catholic Church which still exists today.

R. E. Aguirre. said...

So true Tim and I like your logic here. There is a one to one correlation between the modern and ancient Catholic Church. So as Newman argues in his Pro vita the Catholic Church back then who condemned and fought the schismatics and heretics is the same Church today who combats and rejects the innovations of Protestantism and the theological cults (such as the Mormons).