Long before Constantine, there were Catholics...
“That this rule of faith has come down to us from the beginning of the gospel, even before any of the older heretics, much more before Praxeas, a pretender of yesterday, will be apparent both from the lateness of date which marks all heresies, and also from the absolutely novel character of our new-fangled Praxeas. In this principle also we must henceforth find a presumption of equal force against all heresies whatsoever—that whatever is first is true, whereas that is spurious which is later in date.” – Tertullian, Against Praxeas, ch 2 (~A.D. 200)
Below is a list of the year of the earliest (of which I am aware) extant extra-biblical witness of various Christian doctrines:
(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 – necessity of bishops in the Church, & 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)
- Those that are “(underlined)” are relevant events to help put the other dates in perspective.
- Those doctrines in “bold“ are accepted by evangelicals and Catholics and are also listed for the purpose of helping to put the other dates in perspective.
- Those doctrines “not bolded” are accepted by Catholics and are rejected by most evangelicals as corruptions of the faith.
All dates listed are of course approximate. The quotes showing the witness to these doctrines in those years are at the end of this post.
[See also: 6 of the Oldest Images of Our Lord Jesus Christ]
I have ten comments:
1) These aren’t new doctrines
Since it doesn’t appear as though any of the authors are proposing a new doctrine in any of the quotes, it can be assumed that all of these doctrines in the very least pre-date by some amount of time their first extant extra-biblical witness.
2) These have been kept without break since then
All of the Catholic beliefs listed were maintained from the early Church onward. In other words, I’m not citing anomalies in the early Church and recommending that Catholics should revive them. Catholics have maintained these beliefs/practices since then without a break. Neither am I implying that these beliefs do not have a basis in Scripture. These quotes are merely the first extant extra-biblical witnesses of the doctrines.
3) Some of these authors knew the Apostles
Remember that evangelicals claim that all of those Catholic beliefs listed above were all invented and did not come from the apostles, even though the Christians immediately following the apostles, including some who knew the apostles personally, thought that those doctrines came from the apostles. In particular, regarding apostolic succession, St Clement – who, as stated above, was surely a contemporary of the apostles and may have also known them personally – .
In some cases, the authors were contemporaries of the apostles and most likely knew some of the apostles themselves. For example, St Clement, who was the bishop of Rome at the end of the 1st century and is traditionally identified with the Clement referred to by Paul in Philippians 4.3. He explicitly states in a letter that apostolic succession was set up by the apostles. And in other cases, the authors knew disciples of the apostles, e.g. St Irenaeus was a disciple of St Polycarp who was a disciple of the Apostle John.
4) Explicit mention of the Trinity and 27 book New Testament postdate mention of other specifically Catholic doctrines
Notice the large number of doctrines/practices that are rejected by most evangelicals as Catholic corruptions of the faith that are witnessed to prior to explicit development of the doctrine of the Trinity or even the first extant witness to the 27 book New Testament canon.
In other words, 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.
5) Most of these doctrines generated almost no major disputes in the early Church
Ironically, most those issues that evangelicals claim to be obvious corruptions of the faith were accepted throughout the early Church with relatively little dissent.
And it was on issues like the New Testament canon and the doctrine of the Trinity – two issues on which evangelicals agree with the early Church – that had the most widespread disagreement and dissent. The confusion/dissent regarding these two issues was so widespread and entrenched that they were only settled for the whole Church when the bishops of the Church wielded their authority from apostolic succession – the same authority who’s existence evangelicals deny.
In other words, those beliefs for which apostolic authority was not needed to be well established in the Church, evangelicals reject; whereas those beliefs for which apostolic authority was needed to establish them within the Church, evangelicals accept, even though evangelicals reject apostolic authority and succession.
6) Was the Church really already corrupt by the 2nd century?
If the Catholic beliefs listed here warranted schism in the 16th century, then that means that the Church in the 2nd century already warranted schism.
In other words, an evangelical who would justify the 16th century schism of the Reformers by citing these Catholic beliefs, must also hold that the Church by the end of the 2nd century – if not the end of the 1st century due to belief in apostolic succession – was already well corrupted to the point of warranting schism, and that the Church existed in that state, with little dissent on those beliefs which warranted schism, until it was saved in the 16th century.
7) What about the Holy Spirit?
If the Catholic beliefs listed here were truly innovations or corruptions of the faith, the Catholic Church therefore has not been receiving any help from the Holy Spirit in the maintenance of those beliefs. If that is the case, the Catholic Church is far and above the most successful heretic movement in the history of the Church. The Catholic Church has been so successful in promoting its heresy that, for the majority of Church history, it was the closest thing to true orthodoxy (though the little orthodoxy there was still deeply obscured).
The Catholic Church, without the aid of the Holy Spirit – nay, with the Holy Spirit working against it – has maintained its corrupted beliefs with far more integrity and for far longer than any of the Protestant communities, which do claim to be guided by the Holy Spirit (for some, to the point of being able to determine, by simple illumination of the Holy Spirit, that the Bible in use for over a thousand years was wrong and that a canon that had never existed before was the correct one).
Despite having such clear guidance from the Holy Spirit, the Protestant communities in their short 500 year history have splintered and changed beliefs to a very large degree. One need only look at evangelicals themselves: “on the matters of women’s ordination, abortion, contraception, divorce, eternal punishment, Chalcedonian formulation of the Incarnation, infant baptism, ecclesiology, the nature of God, and even the inerrancy of Scripture, Evangelicals have held a wide variety of views over the past fifty years, all of which are considered by many Evangelical scholars as well within the bounds of orthodoxy.” (Francis J. Beckwith, Mormonism, Catholicism, and the Romney Candidacy)
8) What about Jesus’ promises?
The evangelical must hold that all of this occurred despite the fact that Jesus himself promised to be “with [us] always, to the very end of the age,” (Mt 28.20), that, since He would build His Church on the rock, “the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt 16.18), and that Jesus said he would send us the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of Truth” (John 14.16-17, John 15.26, John 16.13).
9) Many Protestant beliefs originate far later
Modern evangelicals, in their rejection of those early Catholic beliefs, are largely following traditions that started more than a thousand years later.
10) So, who is more likely to be closer to the original teaching of the Apostles?
The Catholic Church, following the beliefs and practices of the early Christians who first received the teaching of the Apostles directly, or those who, 1500 years or more after the fact, reinterpreted the writings of the Apostles to mean things that Christians had never believed before and rule out as corruption and heresy those things that Christians had always believed/practiced from the very beginning?
Here are the quotes:
In a few cases, if the earliest witness has some ambiguity, then I’ve listed another early witness that is more clear.
A.D. 90 – The Lord’s Supper as a Sacrifice
“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. But let no one that is at variance with his fellow come together with you, until they be reconciled, that your sacrifice may not be profaned. For this is that which was spoken by the Lord: In every place and time offer to me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is wonderful among the nations. [Malachi 1.11,14]” (Didache, 14)
“He then speaks of those Gentiles, namely us, who in every place offer sacrifices to Him, i.e., the bread of the Eucharist, and also the cup of the Eucharist” (St Justin the Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 41)
A.D. 95 – Apostolic Succession
“The apostles have preached the gospel to us from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ [has done so] from God. Christ therefore was sent forth by God, and the apostles by Christ. Both these appointments, then, were made in an orderly way, according to the will of God. Having therefore received their orders, and being fully assured by the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and established in the word of God, with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth proclaiming that the kingdom of God was at hand. And thus preaching through countries and cities, they appointed the first fruits [of their labours], having first proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons of those who should afterwards believe. […]
“Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.” (St Clement, bishop of Rome, First Clement 42, 44)
A.D. 110 – Necessity of Bishops to the Church and Necessity of Submitting to Bishops
“For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the [manifested] will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ.” (St Ignatius of Antioch, bishop of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 3)
“…[you are] joined to [the bishop] as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity! […] He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, God resists the proud. Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.” (St Ignatius of Antioch, bishop of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 5)
“In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church.” (St Ignatius of Antioch, bishop of Antioch, Letter to the Trallians, 3)
“For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. […] Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ.].” (St Ignatius of Antioch, bishop of Antioch, Letter to the Philadelphians, 3)
A.D. 110 – Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist
“Let no man deceive himself. …[I]f they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. […] But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. […] They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes.” (St Ignatius of Antioch, bishop of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 6-7)
“And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.” (St Justin the Martyr, First Apology, 66)
A.D. 150 – Baptismal Regeneration and Baptism as Necessary for Salvation
“Then they are brought by us where there is water, and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father and Lord of the universe, and of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit, they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, Unless you be born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. [John 3.3]”
“And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined.” (St Justin the Martyr, First Apology, 61, 66)
“…the prescript is laid down that without baptism, salvation is attainable by none (chiefly on the ground of that declaration of the Lord, who says, Unless one be born of water, he has not life [John 3.5].)” (Tertullian, On Baptism, 12)
A.D. 150 – Basic structure of the Mass
“[O]n the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together to one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits; then, when the reader has ceased, the president verbally instructs, and exhorts to the imitation of these good things. Then we all rise together and pray, and, as we before said, when our prayer is ended, bread and wine and water are brought, and the president in like manner offers prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people assent, saying Amen; and there is a distribution to each, and a participation of that over which thanks have been given, and to those who are absent a portion is sent by the deacons.” (St Justin the Martyr, First Apology, 67)
A.D. 155 – Veneration of Saints and their Relics
“[After Bishop Polycarp was martyed in a Roman stadium] But when the adversary of the race of the righteous, the envious, malicious, and wicked one, perceived the impressive nature of his martyrdom, and [considered] the blameless life he had led from the beginning, and how he was now crowned with the wreath of immortality, having beyond dispute received his reward, he did his utmost that not the least memorial of him should be taken away by us, although many desired to do this, and to become possessors of his holy flesh.
“For this end he suggested it to Nicetes, the father of Herod and brother of Alce, to go and entreat the governor not to give up his body to be buried, lest, said he, forsaking Him that was crucified, they begin to worship this one. This he said…being ignorant of this, that it is neither possible for us ever to forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of such as shall be saved throughout the whole world (the blameless one for sinners ), nor to worship any other.
“For Him indeed, as being the Son of God, we adore; but the martyrs, as disciples and followers of the Lord, we worthily love on account of their extraordinary affection towards their own King and Master, of whom may we also be made companions and fellow disciples!” (Author unknown, Martyrdom of Polycarp, 17)
A.D. 160 – Mary as the New Eve
“[Jesus] became man by the Virgin, in order that the disobedience which proceeded from the serpent might receive its destruction in the same manner in which it derived its origin. For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the word of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, ‘Be it unto me according to your word.'” (St Justin the Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho, 100)
A.D 170 – Use of the word ‘Trinity’
“In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man.” (Theophilus, patriarch of Antioch, Theophilus to Autolycus 2.15)
A.D. 180 – Primacy of the Bishop of Rome
“But since it would be too long to enumerate in such a volume as this the successions of all the churches, we shall confound all those who, in whatever manner, whether through self-satisfaction or vainglory, or through blindness and wicked opinion, assemble other than where it is proper, by pointing out here the successions of the bishops of the greatest and most ancient church known to all, founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul—that church which has the tradition and the faith with which comes down to us after having been announced to men by the apostles. For with this Church, because of its superior origin, all churches must agree, that is, all the faithful in the whole world. And it is in her that the faithful everywhere have maintained the apostolic tradition.” (St Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3.3.2)
A.D. 200 – ‘Trinity’, ‘Person’, ‘Substance’ Formula
“…especially in the case of this heresy, which supposes itself to possess the pure truth, in thinking that one cannot believe in One Only God in any other way than by saying that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are the very selfsame Person. As if in this way also one were not All, in that All are of One, by unity (that is) of substance; while the mystery of the dispensation is still guarded, which distributes the Unity into a Trinity, placing in their order the three Persons— the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost: three, however, not in condition, but in degree; not in substance, but in form; not in power, but in aspect; yet of one substance, and of one condition, and of one power, inasmuch as He is one God, from whom these degrees and forms and aspects are reckoned, under the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. How they are susceptible of number without division, will be shown as our treatise proceeds.” (Tertullian, Against Praxeas, 2)
A.D. 367 – 27 book New Testament Canon
“Again it is not tedious to speak of the [books] of the New Testament. These are, the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Afterwards, the Acts of the Apostles and Epistles (called Catholic), seven, viz. of James, one; of Peter, two; of John, three; after these, one of Jude. In addition, there are fourteen Epistles of Paul, written in this order. The first, to the Romans; then two to the Corinthians; after these, to the Galatians; next, to the Ephesians; then to the Philippians; then to the Colossians; after these, two to the Thessalonians, and that to the Hebrews; and again, two to Timothy; one to Titus; and lastly, that to Philemon. And besides, the Revelation of John.” (St Athanasius, Easter Letter of 367, 5)