by Matthew Bellisario
The Catholic Church also would agree that the Church is made up of “believers” and the quotes above that you listed use the term in that relative context. It is however not the “only” definition that the Church Fathers use to refer to the Church. It is a fallacy of selective emphasis here that you have picked these quotes only to arrive at yours, or the WMCs definition of the Church. If we read other quotes from the same Church Fathers we see a clear hierarchal structure to it which you fail to accept.
Irenaeus clearly gives us a vision of the apostolic succession of the apostles through the bishops which you reject, which constitutes the real meaning of what the Church is,
“1. It is within the power of all, therefore, in every Church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the whole world; and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the Churches, and [to demonstrate] the succession of these men to our own times; those who neither taught nor knew of anything like what these [heretics] rave about.“
3. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric. This man, as he had seen the blessed apostles, and had been conversant with them, might be said to have the preaching of the apostles still echoing [in his ears], and their traditions before his eyes.
Against Heresies (Book III, Chapter 3)
Irenaeus also gives us a clear understanding of the structure of the Church being more than just believers when he calls those to refer back to the tradition of the most ancient churches, which once again you reject,
“Suppose there arise a dispute relative to some important question among us, should we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches with which the apostles held constant intercourse, and learn from them what is certain and clear in regard to the present question? For how should it be if the apostles themselves had not left us writings? Would it not be necessary, [in that case,] to follow the course of the tradition which they handed down to those to whom they did commit the Churches?”
Against Heresies (Book III, Chapter 4)
We can also the see that St Cyprian of Carthage had an image of the primacy of the apostle St. Peter when he refers to the chair of unity that the Church is built on which is also in line with what I have presented with the full meaning of what the Church is, one once again which you reject,
“On him [Peter] He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigned a like power to all the Apostles, yet he founded a single Chair, 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; but a primacy is given to Peter, whereby it is made clear that there is but one Church and one Chair. So too, all are shepherds, and the flock is shown to be one, fed by all the Apostles in single-minded accord. If someone does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he 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 [first edition] 4, c. AD 251)”
We can also see that the chair of Peter was recognized in the early Church by St. Ephraim as well,
"[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. Through you I will give drink to all peoples. Yours is that life-giving sweetness which I dispense. I have chosen you to be, as it were, the first-born in my institution so that, as the heir, you may be executor of my treasures. I have given you the keys of my kingdom. Behold, I have given you authority over all my treasures." St. Ephraim of Syria ("Homily 4," c. 351 A.D.)
The answer to your question, “Why now do you feel justified in defining “the Church” in the self-serving way you define it, contrary (at least) to the WCF and the early churchmen quoted and cited above?” Whose way is self serving? I read the Fathers in their complete context, unlike the method you are using which you are narrowly defining a definition of the Church which is incomplete. It is obviously not contrary to any of the above since I have just shown that they understood the Church to be much more than yours, or the WMCs definition of it.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
by Matthew Bellisario