The Didache and The Development of Doctrine.


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The Didache serves as a good catechism in addressing particular questions about God’s commandments. For example, What does “Thou Shall not Kill” actually mean when God commands the Hebrews to kill the Canaanites? What does “Thou Shall not commit Adultery” mean to the unmarried? [1]

The Didache addresses both of these topics:

Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not corrupt boys, do not fornicate (have relations outside of marriage); do not steal; do not practice magic; do not go in for sorcery; do not murder a child by abortion or kill a newborn infant.[2]

 Marcellino D’Ambrosio, in his book on the Church Fathers, explains that this is earliest known documentation in Christian literature that murder in accordance with the fifth commandment includes abortion.[3] The document also references a code for sexual relations. Modernity attempts to profess that its views on human sexuality are new and progressive, but this could not be farther from the truth as explained by the Didache’s explanation on the sixth commandment for “In the Greco-Roman society of the time, religion had little to do with sexual morality. Adventuresome sexual exploration was the fashion.”[4]

One of the most interesting facts that we find in the Didache is the instruction of Baptism. When I was a teenager, there was a church that would have bonfires after every football game and most of the high school kids would go to eat free pizza and roast marshmallows. After awhile, the youth minister of this particular church began to attempt to convert us to his faith. It got to the point that this particular youth minister began to tell us Catholics, and other mainstream Protestants, that we were not immersed when we baptized like Jesus in the Jordan River then our baptism was not valid.

So why do we believe our Baptism to be valid? Again, I cannot stress this enough, studying the early Christians allows us to defend our faith. First off, scripture doesn’t necessarily say that Jesus was immersed, it says that “he went up immediately from the water,”[5] “And when he came up out of the water,”[6] So imagine yourself on a riverbank, you have go down a hill to get into the river and to get out of the river you “went up” from it, or you come “up out of the water.” Now, it’s very possible, and even probable that Jesus was immersed, but just because the Gospel records a particular event doesn’t mean it’s a formula. In fact, the only formula for baptism in the Gospel is given at the end of the Gospel of Matthew:

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”[7]

Now, this could just be my particular interpretations of these particular text, I would imagine the youth minister in Mt. Sterling would tell me that these are Catholic apologist proof texts. So, I ask, what were the early Christian understanding of baptism.

The Didache reads:

“Baptize in running water, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” (note that the only no negotiable is based on scripture) If you do not have running water, baptize in some other (form of water). If you cannot in cold, then in warm, If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times “in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”[8]

The early Christians only understood two necessities: #1 The Scriptural Formula and #2 Water. Different variables of water were allowed, and sprinkling was also allowed by early Christians.

Please read the other posts in this series:

Discovering the Didache: The Oldest Catechism and The Didache and Christian Community

[1]D’Ambrosio, 12.

[2] Didache 2:2 Some argue that abortion was allowed in Judaism; however, we must also keep in mind that Divorce was allowed in Judaism as referenced in Mt. 19, but Christ explains the reasoning why Divorce displeases God. Regardless of Judaic arguments for or against abortion, our faith asserts that the Church has been given the authority to teach God’s will.

[3] D’Ambrosio, 13.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Mt. 3:16

[6] Mk. 1:10

[7] Mt. 28:19

[8] Didache 7:2

The Didache and Christian Community


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It’s natural to ask how the idea of community in the Didache pertains to Christians in our 21st century Church; the idea is very much rooted in Catholic “Body of Christ” Theology. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains this in section 787-789:

II.        The Church—Body of Christ

The Church is communion with Jesus

787 From the beginning, Jesus associated his disciples with his own life, revealed the mystery of the Kingdom to them, and gave them a share in his mission, joy, and sufferings. Jesus spoke of a still more intimate communion between him and those who would follow him: “Abide in me, and I in you.… I am the vine, you are the branches.”216 And he proclaimed a mysterious and real communion between his own body and ours: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (755)

788 When his visible presence was taken from them, Jesus did not leave his disciples orphans. He promised to remain with them until the end of time; he sent them his Spirit. As a result communion with Jesus has become, in a way, more intense: “By communicating his Spirit, Christ mystically constitutes as his body those brothers of his who are called together from every nation.”219 (690)

789 The comparison of the Church with the body casts light on the intimate bond between Christ and his Church. Not only is she gathered around him; she is united in him, in his body. Three aspects of the Church as the Body of Christ are to be more specifically noted: the unity of all her members with each other as a result of their union with Christ; Christ as head of the Body; and the Church as bride of Christ.[1]

Recently, I’ve read the Spiritual Diary of St. John Paul II; published for the first time in English. The future Saint wrote about the importance of Christian community in 1978 in his notes, “’Koinonia,’ the community, is the third principle dimension of Christian existence.”[2] John Paul II would return to this theme many times in his diaries and in 1984 wrote reminding us now the dangers of living as an individual in our contemporary society that “Humankind threatened by ‘deindividuation! Contemporary Man. Christianity couters this with the reality of ‘communio’ the communion with God through Jesus Christ, through the mystery of incarnation; the communion of saints.”[3]

Naturally, this is why I have sought to call all of us here together, I desire to foster this community amongst ourselves, but there’s even more that we can do build our community. We need to follow Christ. Remember, the Apostles asked Jesus, “Where are you staying?” He replied, “Come and See.” (John 1:38-41) We encounter Jesus at every Mass during the Liturgy of the Eucharist in our community, we become a part of the Body of Christ during our baptism, but we grow even closer to him by partaking of His body in the Eucharist. As such we use the same language during the mass, we call our celebration of the Eucharist “communion” and before receiving the sacred Body, it is held up the words “The Body of Christ” are spoken prior to reception.

[1] Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed. (Washington: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 208.

[2] Pope St. John Paul II In God’s Hands: The Spiritual Diaries of Pope Saint John Paul II (London: Harper One, 2017), 134.

[3] Ibid, 229.

The Origins of the Authority of the Pope (Part 2)

The Early Christian writing show us what Christianity believed from the time of the Apostles on through the centuries. Many of the First Christians were disciples of the Apostles and also their successors. Their writings show us Christian thinking of the first centuries, and how Christ’s teaching was understood. Who better to express the Apostles’ teaching than their own students? They certainly believed that Peter held a place of primacy among the Apostles.

Tatian the Syrian

“Simon Cephas answered and said, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah: flesh and blood has not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say unto thee also, that you are Cephas, and on this rock will I build my Church; and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it” (The Diatesseron 23 [A.D. 170]).



Was anything withheld from the knowledge of Peter, who is called ‘the rock on which the Church would be built’ [Matt. 16:18] with the power of ‘loosing and binding in heaven and on earth’ [Matt. 16:19]?” (Demurrer Against the Heretics 22 [A.D. 200]).

“[T]he Lord said to Peter, ‘On this rock I will build my Church, I have given you the keys of the kingdom of heaven [and] whatever you shall have bound or loosed on earth will be bound or loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. . . . What kind of man are you, subverting and changing what was the manifest intent of the Lord when he conferred this personally upon Peter? Upon you, he says, I will build my Church; and I will give to you the keys” (Modesty 21:9–10 [A.D. 220]).


The Letter of Clement to James

“Be it known to you, my lord, that Simon [Peter], who, for the sake of the true faith, and the most sure foundation of his doctrine, was set apart to be the foundation of the Church, and for this end was by Jesus himself, with his truthful mouth, named Peter” (Letter of Clement to James 2 [A.D. 221]).


The Clementine Homilies

“[Simon Peter said to Simon Magus in Rome:] ‘For you now stand in direct opposition to me, who am a firm rock, the foundation of the Church’ [Matt. 16:18]” (Clementine Homilies 17:19 [A.D. 221]).



“Look at [Peter], the great foundation of the Church, that most solid of rocks, upon whom Christ built the Church [Matt. 16:18]. And what does our Lord say to him? ‘Oh you of little faith,’ he says, ‘why do you doubt?’ [Matt. 14:31]” (Homilies on Exodus 5:4 [A.D. 248]).


Cyprian of Carthage

“The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. And to you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven . . . ’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17], and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra], and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. Indeed, the others were that also which Peter was [i.e., apostles], but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is 0831cyprian-of-carthage0012.jpgmade clear that there is but one Church and one chair. . . . If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?” (The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; 1st edition [A.D. 251]).

“There is one God and one Christ, and one Church, and one chair founded on Peter by the word of the Lord. It is not possible to set up another altar or for there to be another priesthood besides that one altar and that one priesthood. Whoever has gathered elsewhere is scattering” (Letters 43[40]:5 [A.D. 253]).

“There [John 6:68–69] speaks Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, teaching in the name of the Church and showing that even if a stubborn and proud multitude withdraws because it does not wish to obey, yet the Church does not withdraw from Christ. The people joined to the priest and the flock clinging to their shepherd are the Church. You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop, and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priests of God, believing that they are secretly [i.e., invisibly] in communion with certain individuals. For the Church, which is one and Catholic, is not split nor divided, but it is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere one to another” (ibid., 66[69]:8).



“But what is his error . . . who does not remain on the foundation of the one Church which was founded upon the rock by Christ [Matt. 16:18], can be learned from this, which Christ said to Peter alone: ‘Whatever things you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed in heaven’ [Matt. 16:19]” (collected in Cyprian’s Letters 74[75]:16 [A.D. 253]).

“[Pope] Stephen [I] . . . boasts of the place of his episcopate, and contends that he holds the succession from Peter, on whom the foundations of the Church were laid [Matt. 16:18]. . . . [Pope] Stephen . . . announces that he holds by succession the throne of Peter” (ibid., 74[75]:17).


Ephraim the Syrian

“[Jesus said:] ‘Simon, my follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings. You are the inspector of those who will build on earth a Church for me. If they should wish to build what is false, you, the foundation, will condemn them. You are the head of the fountain from which my teaching flows; you are the chief of my disciples’” (Homilies 4:1 [A.D. 351]).



You cannot deny that you are aware that in the city of Rome the episcopal chair was given first to Peter; the chair in which Peter sat, the same who was head—that is why he is also called Cephas [‘Rock’]—of all the apostles; the one chair in which unity is maintained by all” (The Schism of the Donatists 2:2 [A.D. 367]).


Ambrose of Milan

“[Christ] made answer: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church. . . . ’ Could he not, then, strengthen the faith of the man to whom, acting on his own authority, he gave the kingdom, whom he called the rock, thereby declaring him to be the foundation of the Church [Matt. 16:18]?” (The Faith 4:5 [A.D. 379]).

“It is to Peter that he says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ [Matt. 16:18]. Where Peter is, there is the Church. And where the Church is, no death is there, but life eternal” (Commentary on Twelve Psalms of David 40:30 [A.D. 389]).


Pope Damasus I

“Likewise it is decreed . . . that it ought to be announced that . . . the holy Roman Church has not been placed at the forefront by the conciliar decisions of other churches, but has received the primacy by the evangelic voice of our Lord and Savior, who says: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it; and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. . . . ’ [Matt. 16:18–19]. The first see, therefore, is that of Peter the apostle, that of the Roman Church, which has neither stain nor blemish nor anything like it” (Decree of Damasus 3 [A.D. 382]).



“‘But,’ you [Jovinian] will say, ‘it was on Peter that the Church was founded’ [Matt. 16:18]. Well . . . one among the twelve is chosen to be their head in order to remove any occasion for division” (Against Jovinian 1:26 [A.D. 393]).

“I follow no leader but Christ and join in communion with none but your blessedness [Pope Damasus I], that is, with the chair of Peter. I know that this is the rock on which thecopy_of_st_jerome_writing_by_boelberner.jpg Church has been built. Whoever eats the Lamb outside this house is profane. Anyone who is not in the ark of Noah will perish when the flood prevails” (Letters 15:2 [A.D. 396]).



“If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them [the bishops of Rome] from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not conquer it.’ Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement. … In this order of succession a Donatist bishop is not to be found” (Letters 53:1:2 [A.D. 412]).


Council of Ephesus

“Philip, the presbyter and legate of the Apostolic See [Rome], said: ‘There is no doubt, and in fact it has been known in all ages, that the holy and most blessed Peter, prince and head of the apostles, pillar of the faith, and foundation of the Catholic Church, received the keys of the kingdom from our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the human race, and that to him was given the power of loosing and binding sins: who down even to today and forever both lives and judges in his successors’” (Acts of the Council, session 3 [A.D. 431]).


Sechnall of Ireland

“Steadfast in the fear of God, and in faith immovable, upon [Patrick] as upon Peter the [Irish] church is built; and he has been allotted his apostleship by God; against him the gates of hell prevail not” (Hymn in Praise of St. Patrick 3 [A.D. 444]).


Pope Leo I

“Our Lord Jesus Christ . . . has placed the principal charge on the blessed Peter, chief of all the apostles. . . . He wished him who had been received into partnership in his undivided unity to be named what he himself was, when he said: ‘You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church’ [Matt. 16:18], that the building of the eternal temple might rest on Peter’s solid rock, strengthening his Church so surely that neither could human rashness assail it nor the gates of hell prevail against it” (Letters 10:1 [A.D. 445]).


Council of Chalcedon

Wherefore the most holy and blessed Leo, archbishop of the great and elder Rome, through us, and through this present most holy synod, together with the thrice blessed and all-glorious Peter the apostle, who is the rock and foundation of the Catholic Church, and the foundation of the orthodox faith, has stripped him [Dioscorus] of the episcopate” (Acts of the Council, session 3 [A.D. 451]).

Both history and the Scriptures point to Peter being made the leader of the earthly Church. Why object to it? Scripture teaches it; the first Christians believed it. A person who makes an attack on the papacy is either ignorant or wrongly informed. I would next like to study the one of the specifics of the teaching power of the pope, that is, infallibility.

{To be continued in The Origins of the Authority of the Pope (Part 3) Papal Infallibility}

Discovering the Didache: The Oldest Catechism.


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The first topic of discussion is not a single Church Father, but rather a 2nd century document called the Didache based on part of one of the oldest known Catechisms in existence called “The Two Way.”[1] The Two Way, as explained by Thomas O’Loughlin, Professor of Theology at the University of Nottingham, gave early Christians a choice between a way of life, either a way of life or death.[2] What the Didache tells us is how early Christians worshiped God and whether our development of our faith is either very different from the faith of early Christians or very much alike. An interesting fact about the document known as the Didache, which means “teaching” in Greek, is that it has been lost for nearly 1000 years before being found by a monk in Istanbul in 1873. The particular Orthodox monk’s name that discovered the Didache was Philotheos Bryennios; “born in Constantinople in 1833.”[3]

Bryennios’ story for me is an inspiring story, as a student of history, I’ve been taught various historical methods to aid my prowess as a historian. In his Book, Professor O’Loughlin explains that Bryennios had such a great aptitude as a scholar that his superiors found funding for him to attend a prestigious school in German to mold his budding skills as a scholar.[4] Interesting enough, it were these skills that gave him the simple perseverance while researching in the library of the Constantinople house of the Monastery of the Holy Sepulchre by simply looking through an entire manuscript that was already well known by scholars at the time.[5]

Now, from a historical perspective, I have to ask, what can be learned by the discovery of such a document? Did we discover that in fact Catholic theology had drifted far away from early Christians or did it faithfully adhere to the early doctrines of the early Church?

Let’s take a look and find out.

Thomas O’Loughlin gives a great foundation for understanding the Christian context of the Didache by framing it within the backdrop of the Judaic understanding of Deuteronomy 30:14-18. RSV

14 But the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

 15 “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil. 16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it. 17 But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, 18 I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.[6]

 Prof. O’Loughlin explains that “the people of Israel are presented with this choice: the way of covenant which leads to life and rejoicing in good things, the way of death which is the result of choosing another way and ignoring the commandments.”[7] As explained, by O’Loughlin, this challenge that was initiated by the Hebrews and adopted by early Christians by ending the idea of cosmic fatalism—being collateral damage of pagan gods—was revolutionary to a great many people in the world; therefore, was extremely attractive to new converts.[8]

The document reminds us that early Christians viewed themselves not as single individuals but rather as a community, as the advent of this type of thinking was created during the 16th and 17th centuries in the period commonly referred to as the Enlightenment. During the Enlightenment, the primary concerns of many philosophers and politicians was natural law and natural rights being inalienable to nature and essence of  humanity by the natural order of our creation. However, the detriment of this type of thinking has led to extreme philosophies of individualism, materialism, and scientism.

The Didache, in many ways, reminds us that our Western civilizations continue to move away from orthodox (small “o”) Christian thinking and culture. O’Loughlin says, in accord with choosing the way of life—following Jesus Christ—“the individual had to accept the way as a member of the people, but was the whole community that had to choose to sset out on the way of life. Moreover, when individuals abandoned the commandments then the whole community was in jeopardy.”[9]

[1] D’Ambrosio, 11.

[2] Thomas O’Loughlin, The Didache: A Window on the Earliest Christians (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), 30.

[3] Ibid, 1.

[4] Ibid, 3.

[5] Ibid, 5.

[6] Deut. 30:14-18 RSV

[7] O’Loughlin, 29.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid, 30.

Gladstone, Newman & Infallibility

It was, of course, the declaration of the dogma of Papal Infallibility, which was at the heart of Gladstone’s alarm; like many at the time – and since – he placed his own interpretation of those words based on his prejudices. If one believes that Catholics are mindless zombies under the sway of the Pope, then it is easy enough to see the word ‘Infallibility’ and assume the worst. In fact, the Council had agreed to a fairly circumscribed definition of that concept, and it was one in line with the practice of the Church.

In defending the claim to Infallibility, Newman skilfully trod a line between the boundaries staked out on one side, by the Protestants, and on the other by Manning and the Ultramontanes. A forensic exercise in Patristics showed up the Protestant claim that the Bishop of Rome’s pre-eminence was something unknown to the early Church. An examination of the history of the Faith showed that the State had always sought to exercise authority over the Church – and that Rome alone had resisted this – unlike Canterbury, Constantinople or Moscow. Thus, far from ‘repudiating ancient history’, as Gladstone claimed, ‘it is our fidelity to the history of our forefathers’, which was the real object of his attacks. Newman’s own personal consistency could be seen clearly: one of the basic tenets of Tractarianism had been its anti-Erastianism (Erastianism being the technical term for State control of the Church), and it had been, in large part, the undeniable signs of the submission of the Church of England to the State, which had pushed Newman (and Manning) along the road to Rome. The Catholic Church was what it had always been; Christ alone was its head.

Newman then took the fight to Gladstone, asserting that the Pope was the rightful heir ‘of the Ecumenical Hierarchy of the fourth century. Was it possible, he asked, to ‘consider the Patriarch of Moscow or of Constantinople, heir to the historical pretensions of St. Ambrose or St. Martin? Does any Anglican Bishop for the last 300 years recall to our minds the image of St, Basil?’[i]  All the arguments from antiquity led to the same conclusion which was that: ‘We must either give up the belief in the Church as a divine institution altogether, or we must recognize in it that communion of which the Pope is the head.’ This being so, belief in ‘the Pope and his attributes’ was a natural part of being a Christian; there was, he asserted ‘nothing then of wanton opposition to the powers that be … [and] no pernicious servility to the Pope in our admission of his pretensions.’[ii] Then, in a clever thrust to the heart of his message, Newman disowned any evangelical purpose in his argument: ‘I do not call upon another to believe all that I believe on the subject myself. I declare it as my own judgement’; [iii] and there was the rub. Newman’s belief was founded not on docility or servility, but on a personal judgement based on historical and patristic foundations; others were welcome to come to different conclusions – but none could claim that personal conscience was not an attribute of Catholicism.


[i] John Henry Newman, A Letter Addressed to His Grace the Duke of Norfolk on occasion of Mr. Gladstone’s recent expostulation (1875), p. 26.

[ii] Ibid., p. 27.

[iii] Ibid.,


The politics of anti-Catholicism


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Two main motives can be discerned in the timing of Gladstone’s actions. In the first place, his Government had been brought down, at least in part, because of the refusal of the Catholic bishops to support his education and Irish policies; Gladstone’s hopes that Cardinal Manning would back him had come to naught, and he had become convinced that the reason was because the Catholic bishops were being guided by the Vatican; that would have been reason enough to be concerned that a foreign power was wielding undue influence on British politics. But that does not explain why he was exercised by the Tractarian influence. For that, we have to look closer to home, so to say.

In August 1874 Gladstone’s wife, Catherine, received a letter from Lady Ripon, the wife of a former ministerial colleague of Gladstone’s; it contained the news that her husband was about to convert to Catholicism. Gladstone was ‘stunned’ by the news. How was it, he asked Lady Ripon, that Ripon ‘can have gone through those processes of long and long-tested enquiry, which are the absolute duty of such a man as he is, before performing that tremendous operation of changing his religion, and becoming a sworn soldier in the army banded to destroy the Church that had been his home?’ He found it unintelligible that, after the Syllabus and the declaration of Infallibility, any man of intelligence and spirit could take such a step. ‘There is not a man who is more sensible than I, of the hollowness of the popular arguments against Romanism; nor is there one who is more profoundly convinced that the Romanism of today is the best ally of unbelief because it continually drives off from faith, wherever it has sway, the awakened and the searching, even if reverent, mind of man.’[i] Ripon’s conversion was, to Gladstone, ‘a deplorable calamity’. It also triggered concerns even closer to home.

That September Gladstone visited Cologne where his sister, Helen, another convert to Rome, was living.  His purpose was the usual one, a brotherly attempt to win her back for Anglicanism.  Whilst there he talked with his old friend, Dollinger, the leader of the old Catholics who had broken with Rome over Infallibility.  He also followed closely the attempts of the Bismarck Government to bring the Catholic Church under state control – the Kulturkampf.  It was out of this maelstrom that Gladstone’s pamphlet emerged.

It ought to be noted, however, that, it did not emerge without consultation with his old friend, Lord Acton, the great white hope of liberal Catholics. It was natural, given the mutuality of their admiration for each other, and their dislike of the Vatican Decrees, that Gladstone should have turned to Acton for assistance. On 19 October he wrote that: ‘Circumstances have made it necessary for me to say a few words … with respect to the actual Church of Rome in its relations to mental freedom and civil loyalty’; the next day he began writing a pamphlet on the theme.[ii] Acton, who thought that Ultramontanism was ‘incompatible with Christian morality as well as with civil society’, replied that ‘no reproach can to be too severe’, because ‘Real Ultramontanism is so serious a matter, so incompatible with Christian morality as well as with civil society, that it ought not to be imputed to me who, if they knew what they are about, would heartily repudiate it.’ There were, he feared, too many Catholics ‘who know not what they adhere to, and are unconscious of the evil they are really doing, besides many who take a more or less honest refuge in inconsistency.’ [iii] Thus encouraged,Gladstone pressed ahead with his pamphlet.

But when he actually saw the text, Acton was taken back: ‘The result is to demand of the Catholics security against Ultramontanism under pale of losing their claim to Liberal, to national respect and support – in reality, under pain of a tremendous No Popery cry.’ Gladstone was ‘deaf’ to Acton’s ‘political, spiritual and other obvious arguments against publication.’ [i] Since one of his intentions was to divide the Ultramontanes from the liberal Catholics, the fact that Acton of all men was driven to say ‘I should meet his challenge on my own account’, ought to have given him pause for thought; that it did not is a sign of the headwind behind the former Prime Minister.

As he explained to Granville: ‘My proper and main motive has been this: the conviction that I have that they (Roman Catholics) are waiting in one vast conspiracy, for an opportunity to direct European war to the re-establishment by force of the temporal power … I desire in homely language to do the little in my power to put a spoke in their wheel’. He acknowledged that ‘the priest party will be furious’, but he hoped to embarrass the ‘moderate men’ into doing ‘their duty.’[ii] Had Newman ‘possessed will and “character” enough, he ought to have been in the same noble conflict for the truth’ as Döllinger;[iii] Gladstone’s pamphlet might smoke him – and others – out. It was an indication of the effect of ant-Catholicism on his thinking that Gladstone failed to see that ‘the simple fact of the matter was that if a Catholic accepted Infallibility, he was one of those attacked … Protest as he might, Gladstone had thrown the gauntlet down before all Catholics, including his liberal friends.’[iv]

[i] McElrath, The Syllabus of Pius IX, p. 228, Acton letter, 4 November, 1874.

[ii] Ramm, Gladstone-Granville Corr. II,  p. 458.

[iii] McClelland, Gladstone and Manning, p. 161.

[iv] McElrath, p. 229.


[i] Josef L. Altholz and John Powell, ‘Lord Ripon, and the Vatican Decrees, 1874’, in Albion, vo. 22, no. 3, 1990, pp.450-451.

[ii] Gladstone diaries VIII, p. 537.

[iii] J.Altholx and D. McElrath (eds.), The Correspondence of Lord Acton, volume I, (Cambridge, 1871), p. 46.



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On Tuesday I began what is going to turn into a series of posts about Catholicism and intellectual freedom. The locus classicus of this discussion for me is the debate between Gladstone and Newman caused by the former’s attack on what he called ‘Vaticanism’. For Gladstone, as for many Englishmen, Rome was the home of the a black legend of persecution and intellectual slavery. High Churchman though he was, Gladstone was never tempted to follow Newman or Manning across the Tiber; he was inoculated from their ‘Roman fever’ by his view of history. English history was the tale of moving from the darkness of feudal Catholicism to the light of Anglican constitutional government. He was no democrat, regarded it as a debased form of government where the mob might rule at the whim of a populist dictator. He was, he said, an ‘out and out inegalitarian’. If American democracy was at one end of the spectrum, the Vatican was at the other end. In his eyes what happened in Rome in 1871 was the revival of the old enemy of Papal absolutism. The dispute between Gladstone and Newman has to be seen against the background of the First Vatican Council (as it began to be called after its successor).

The Vatican Decrees of 1871 were controversial before and after the Council.  Many Catholics, Newman included, had considered it inopportune to make any declaration about Papal Infallibility.  Newman had aroused some controversy at the time when the contents of what was meant to be a private letter to Bishop Ullathorne were leaked the press. ‘Why’, he asked, ‘should an aggressive and insolent faction be allowed to make the heart of the just sad, whom the Lord had not made sorrowful?’[i] Newman had not meant the letter for publication, but when it got into the press, he refused to retract his remarks, preferring instead to resort to his characteristic device of explaining with precision whom he had not meant by the offending comments. Many had supposed him to be referring to Manning and his Ultramontane colleagues; this Newman refused to confirm – or quite deny.  By 1874 the controversy caused by the Decrees had quietened down, at least in the UK.  But in November of that year Gladstone, who had lost power in the General Election six months earlier, published a pamphlet which poured petrol on the smouldering embers.

Gladstone’s The Vatican Decrees in their bearing on Civil Allegiance: A Political Expostulation was a sizeable publication of seventy two pages.  In it, he denounced ‘Vaticanism’ and all the works of Pius IX. In highly inflammatory language, he argued that henceforth no Roman Catholic could be considered a loyal subject of the Queen.

The pamphlet was a best-seller, twenty five thousand copies were bought in the month after its publication in January 1874; by the end of the year 145,000 copies had been printed. Gladstone acknowledged that his language had been a little ‘rough’, but justified it by the seriousness of the matters under review, chief amongst which was ‘the question whether a handful of the clergy are or not engaged  in an utterly hopeless and visionary attempt to Romanise the Church and people of England.’[ii] This, clearly, was aimed as much at the Tractarians in the Anglican Church as it was at Rome.

Not since ‘the bloody reign of Mary’ had such an enterprise been possible, he declared, but this was especially true now, because Rome had substituted ‘for the proud boast of simper eadem, a policy of violence and change in faith,’ and had ‘refurbished and paraded anew, every rusty tool she was fondly thought to have disused,’ and when ‘no one can become her convert without renouncing his moral and mental freedom, and placing his civil loyalty and duty at the mercy of another; and when she had equally repudiated modern thought and ancient history’[iii]

He listed eighteen propositions from the Syllabus to prove his last point, denying that his words were aimed at ‘Roman Catholics generally’; his target was ‘the Papal Chair’ and ‘its advisers and abettors’. The only fault of individual Catholics lay in their submission to such a tyranny, which rejected ‘the old historic, scientific and moderate school’ of Catholics epitomised in the contents of Newman’s letter to Ullathorne. In citing Newman, Gladstone was trying to ‘strengthen and hearten’ the moderate Catholic party generally.[iv] His way of going about this was, to say the least, most unfortunate; nothing was less liable to achieve such an aim than quoting Newman’s letter.

Gladstone’s pamphlet was welcomed by the Protestant world, not least by those Anglicans who had been pressing the Disraeli Government to pass legislation against Ritualism in the Church of England.  Given the fact that Gladstone was himself a High Anglican, and that he had said little about Papal Infallibility at the time, despite the fact he had been Prime Minister then, the timing of his publication needs explaining before moving on to the question of why he mentioned Newman’s letter to Ullathorne.

[i] C.S. Dessain and T. Gornall, The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, volume XXV, (Oxford, 1975), pp. 18-20, letter to Ullathorne, 28 January 1870.

[ii] W.E. Gladstone, The Vatican Decrees ion their bearing on Civil Allegiance: A Politicanal Exposulation (1874), pp. 4-5.

[iii] Op. Cit. p. 6.

[iv] Ramm,  Gladstone, Granville Corr. volume II WEG to Granville, 7 December 1874, p. 461.

What is a Church Father?


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**I’ve noticed that the blog hasn’t posted anything for the last couple of days, as it’s important to keep up content, I’ve decided to post an excerpt from my notes for the newly formed Parish Six-Week Discussion group that will be given this Wednesday, after the discussion group, the entire presentation notes will be posted on either my personal blog or this one. **

What exactly is a Church Father? Who is included? One definition that I’ve heard is that the Church Fathers are basically the followers of the Apostles. However, the problem with this definition is that some Church Father’s like St. Augustine lived nearly 350 years after the Apostles. In Marcellino D’Ambrosio’s book When the Church was Young, the author writes, “One often finds the following standard definition in encyclopedias and text books ”The Fathers of the Church are those characterized by orthodoxy, holiness, antiquity, and Church approval.”[1] D’Ambrosio goes on to mention that this definition is, of course, ambiguous as there are several Church Fathers who have not been canonized as saints like Origen and Tertullian.

The definition that is finally articulated by D’ambrosio in his book is “The Church Fathers are those great Christian writers who passed on and clarified the teaching of the apostles from approximately the second through the eighth centuries.”[2] I believe this to be a very distinct and thorough definition but if one is looking for a more generalized definition, Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin provides a more generalized definition explaining, “In time, the concept (Church Fathers) came to be applied in a general way to those who shaped the faith and practice of the Church in its earliest centuries. They became “Fathers” not only for their own age but for all ages that would follow. Some of these—the ones who heard the preaching of the apostles themselves or lived very shortly after the time of the apostles—came to be called the “Apostolic Fathers” or “Sub-Apostolic Fathers.” Together with the Fathers of later ages, they were important witnesses to the apostolic Tradition.[3]
Why is studying the Church Father’s important? First off, by learning about their lives and studying their writings, we learn why we belief the doctrines of our faith, how those doctrines developed when both Christ and the Apostles were gone and how to defend what we believe.

For example, similarities can be drawn from ancient Arian heresy’s denial of Christ being consubstantial (ever wonder why we use this word in the Nicene Creed?) with the Father and Jehovah Witness beliefs on the Trinity that Christ was created by God, the Father, and his subordinate to Him. By studying the Church Fathers, we can learn from them that the Church in its earliest conception believed Jesus to be also one with the Father and how to articulate that to those who we encounter in the world. Simply, knowing the Fathers and what they taught, gives us the tools to better evangelize the world.

Blessed John Henry Newman, the famous English convert, lays out in one of the most graceful pieces of work in the English language the Apologia Pro Vita Sua the reason for his courageous conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism lies with the Church Fathers.

Newman writes, “When they (the Church Fathers) speak of doctrine, they speak of them as being universally held. They are witnesses to the fact of those doctrines having been received not here or there, but everywhere. We receive those doctrines which they thus teach, not merely because they teach them, but because they bear witness that all Christians everywhere then held them…they do not speak of their own private opinion; they do not say, ‘This is true, because we see it in Scripture’—about which there might be differences of judgment—but, ‘this is true, because in matter of fact it is held, and has ever been held, by all the Churches, down to our times without interruption, ever since the Apostles.”[4]

[1] Marcellino D’Ambrosio, When The Church Was Young: Voices of the Early Fathers (Servant Books: San Francisco, 2014), 1.

[2] Ibid, 2.

[3] Jimmy Akin, The Fathers Know Best: Your Essential Guide to the Teachings of the Early Church (San Diego, CA: Catholic Answers, 2010), 23.

[4] Dave Armstrong, Quotable Newman (Sophia Press: Manchester, 2012), 169-70.

The Origins of the Teaching Authority of the Pope (Part 1)


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The Catholic Magisterium is the power of the Catholic Church, as given it by the Son of God, Christ Jesus, to proclaim the truths of the Faith. The Magisterium exercises this teaching power in two different ways.

The Solemn Magisterium

This form of the teaching Magisterium is that which is used by popes to formally define articles of the faith infallibly. When the pope teaches this way, it is referred to as ex cathedra.

The Ordinary Magisterium

This form of the teaching Magisterium is exercised by the Church in practices connected to faith and morals, in the common sense of the faithful, historical documents, unanimous consent of Church Fathers and theologians, when the faith is taught.

The Apostles were the Church’s first teaching authority after Jesus, the first of the Magisterium. Christ granted them Peter & the Keysthe power to teach the faith to Christians and non-Christians alike. To Peter Christ said:

“And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

Here Christ appoints Peter as the rock He will build His Church upon, promising that Satan’s power will not destroy it. Christ then gives Peter the keys to the kingdom of Heaven, a significant act showing Peter’s power of authority.

Some will object and say that the original Greek of the Gospel lists Peter as Petros, meaning smaller rock; a stone, while the word for the rock Christ will build His church upon is petra, meaning large rock; a boulder. If Peter’s name meant “small rock”, then he could not be the foundation that Christ was speaking of. Instead, Christ must have been referring to Himself when speaking of the foundation of His Church.

First, I am no Greek scholar myself, but have been told that in Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament, petra and petros are synonyms of each other. They simply Peter-rock.pngtranslate as “rock”. The only form of Greek that they could not be used interchangeably is Attic Greek, as it is a form of Greek in which petros and petra have different meanings.

Also, if Christ wished to express Peter’s inability to be His Church’s foundation, He could have referred to him as lithos, which means a small pebble in Greek. It was not as if Christ’s vocabulary was handicapped, or that He was trying to be deceptive or tricky. He said what He meant.

In addition to the Greek of the Gospel, the meaning of Peter as the rock is bolstered in the language of Aramaic, the language Christ spoke. In Aramaic, the words for Peter and rock would be the same; kepha. Christ would have used kepha for both the words Peter and rock in the passage. This helps make clear the reality of what Christ was conferring on Peter; He was making him His Church’s foundation.

The concept of the keys of the kingdom is interesting. In Scripture, keys were regarded as a symbol of the authority granted to a person. Christ giving the keys to Peter is not unlike an instance in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah gives His servant Eliacim the keys to the house of David, the kingdom of David that is, saying words similar to Christ’s.

“And I will lay the key of the house of David upon his shoulder: and he shall open, and none shall shut: and he shall shut, and none shall open.” (Isaiah 22:22)

The power given both to Eliacim and Peter held great authority. Being given the keys to the kingdom, they both were able to make binding decisions no one could alter. Christ even tells Peter that the decisions he makes conducting His Church shall be ratified in Heaven. Can anyone top that? God ratifying your decisions? This was no small honor for Peter. It was a great responsibility. He was the rock on which Christ chose to build His Church.

In Luke 22:31-32, Christ tells Peter:

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou, being once converted, confirm thy brethren.”

Here, Christ tells Peter of Satan’s desire to break up and destroy the Apostles, but Christ says He has prevented it through prayer. He then places Peter in charge of confirming, strengthening, the other Apostles. Peter is placed in charge of helping the other Apostles continue in the way of truth, and not allow them to be taken by the devil. This is one of several examples of the primacy and individual authority Peter possessed among the Apostles.

Another blatant example of Peter’s authority is in John 21:15-17. While Peter is on a beach, eating with Christ, they have the following dialogue:

“When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep.”

Here, Christ places Peter in charge of His own flock, the Church. Peter is to be the head of Christ’s Church on earth, teaching Christ’s flock. Christ gives Peter His entire flock to take care of, making him a shepherd of His Church. Could the Scriptures be anymore plain as to reveal that Christ commissioned Peter to take charge of the Church after He ascended to Heaven? The early Christians are even plainer.


{To be continued in The Origins of the Teaching Authority of the Pope (Part 2) }

Catholicism and intellectual freedom


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The charge has often been, and sometimes still is made that Catholics cannot be fully loyal citizens of any nation or Empire – or even a secular organization, because their primary loyalty lies elsewhere. In modern times we saw it with John F Kennedy when he stood for the Presidency of the USA in 1960, but perhaps the classic statement of it came in 1874. Writing three years after the Vatican Council which had declared the Pope infallible, the British former Prime Minister, Gladstone, wrote (1):

That no one can now become her [the Catholic Church] convert without renouncing his moral and mental freedom, and placing his civil loyalty and duty at the mercy of another.

In expressing this view, he was saying out loud, so to say, what many British people thought. Embedded deep into the national psyche, not least by two hundred years worth of anti-Catholic black propaganda, was the idea that to be a Roman Catholic was profoundly un-English. Edward Norman has eloquently described the potent, and toxic, mix of patriotism, prurience and Protestantism which made up the mental image of the Catholic for the average Englishman. All of this Gladstone now evoked. At the very least, he demanded, Catholics should give some kind of oath of fealty that they would not vote as their priests told them to.

Gladstone was appealing to feelings which, as recently as 1851, had resulted in a wave of pubic hostility against the restoration by Rome of a diocesan structure in England and Wales, described by the then Prime Minister, Lord John Russell as ‘Papal Aggression’. When Newman converted in 1845, he knew that he would be considered as though he were dead by many of his old friends; indeed, for some of them, death would have been preferable to crossing the Tiber and surrendering his mental faculties to a celibate old Italian bigot.

Newman’s response to Gladstone, which took the form of a letter to the leading English Catholic layman, the Duke of Norfolk still deserves reading as the best, and most reasoned example to a line of argumentation (it would be doing it too much honour to call it an argument) which is not unfamiliar to readers of this site.

Newman first reminded Gladstone that States had ever sought to bring Christianity under their control and, from Britain through to the lands of the East had largely succeeded in either subduing or massacring Christians:

Such is the actual fact that, whereas it is the very mission of Christianity to bear witness to the Creed and Ten Commandments in a world which is averse to them, Rome is now the one faithful representative, and thereby is heir and successor, of that free-spoken dauntless Church of old, whose political and social traditions Mr. Gladstone says the said Rome has repudiated.

Rome, and it alone, stood out against the ‘spirit of the age’, as it always had and must, as Christ’s Church, always do. Where Anglicans:

do not believe that Christ set up a visible society, or rather kingdom, for the propagation and maintenance of His religion, for a necessary home and a refuge for His people

Catholics did; it was their Church, which alone resembled that of Rome of old. But did that, as Gladstone alleged, mean that Catholics could not vote according to their own consciences? Were they, as British politicians had urged since the days of Elizabeth, spies and agents of a foreign power which was hostile to the freedom which was the heir of every Englishman?

The main point of Gladstone’s Pamphlet was that, since the Pope claims infallibility in faith and morals, and since there were no “departments and functions of human life which do not and cannot fall within the domain of morals,”(2) and since “the domain of all that concerns the government and discipline of the Church,” were his, and he “claims the power of determining the limits of those domains,” and “does not sever them, by any acknowledged or intelligible line from the domains of civil duty and allegiance,” therefore Catholics are moral and mental slaves, and “every convert and member of the Pope’s Church places his loyalty and civil duty at the mercy of another.

These things, Newman declared, were based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Church and of its relationship to society. He saw clearly what many still fail to see, that the secular had their own agenda and were either blind to that, or motivated by hostility to religion. We shall turn, tomorrow, the Newman’s anser.