Unanimous Consent of the Fathers

By Steve Ray

The Unanimous Consent of the Fathers (unanimem consensum Patrum) refers to the morally unanimous teaching of the Church Fathers on certain doctrines as revealed by God and interpretations of Scripture as received by the universal Church. The individual Fathers are not personally infallible, and a discrepancy by a few patristic witnesses does not harm the collective patristic testimony.

The word “unanimous” comes from two Latin words: únus, one + animus, mind. “Consent” in Latin means agreement, accord, and harmony; being of the same mind or opinion. Where the Fathers speak in harmony, with one mind overall—not necessarily each and every one agreeing on every detail but by consensus and general agreement—we have “unanimous consent”. The teachings of the Fathers provide us with an authentic witness to the apostolic tradition.

St. Irenaeus (ad c. 130–c. 200) writes of the “tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome’ (Against Heresies, III, 3, 2), and the “tradition which originates from the apostles [and] which is preserved by means of the successions of presbyters in the Churches” (Ibid., III, 2, 2) which “does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us” (Ibid., III, 5, 1). Unanimous consent develops from the understanding of apostolic teaching preserved in the Church with the Fathers as its authentic witness.

St. Vincent of Lerins, explains the Church’s teaching: “In the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors” (Commonitory 2). Notice that St. Vincent mentions “almost all priests and doctors”.

The phrase Unanimous Consent of the Fathers had a specific application as used at the Council of Trent (Fourth Session), and reiterated at the First Vatican Council (Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, chap. 2). The Council Fathers specifically applied the phrase to the interpretation of Scripture. Biblical and theological confusion was rampant in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther stated “There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit Baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the altar; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God.  There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams.”

The Council Fathers at Trent (1554–63) affirmed the ancient custom that the proper understanding of Scripture was that which was held by the Fathers of the Church to bring order out of the enveloping chaos. Opposition to the Church’s teaching is exemplified by William Webster (The Church of Rome at the Bar of History [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995]) who misrepresents the Council Fathers by redefining and misapplying “unanimous consent”.

First in redefining, he implies that unanimous consent means each Father must have held the same fully developed traditions and taught them clearly in the same terms as used later in the Church Councils. This is a false understanding of the phrase and even in American law unanimous consent “does not always mean that every one present voted for the proposition, but it may, and generally does, mean, when a [verbal] vote is taken, that no one voted in the negative” (Black’s Law Dictionary). Second he misapplies the term, not to the interpretation of Scripture, as the Council Fathers intended, but to tradition. His assertions are not true, but using a skewed definition and application of “unanimous consent”, he uses selective patristic passages as proof-texts for his analysis of the Fathers.

As an example, individual Fathers may explain “the Rock” in Matthew 16 as Jesus, Peter, Peter’s confession or Peter’s faith. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the “Rock” of Matthew 16 as Peter in one place (CCC 552) and his faith (CCC 424) in another. Matthew 16 can be applied in many ways to refute false teachings and to instruct the faithful without emphasizing the literal, historical interpretation of Peter as the Rock upon which the Church has been built his Church. Webster and others emphasize various patristic applications of a biblical passage as “proof” of non-unanimous consent.

Discussing certain variations in the interpretations of the Fathers, Pope Leo XIII (The Study of Holy Scripture, from the encyclical Providentissimus Deus, Nov., 1893) writes, “Because the defense of Holy Scripture must be carried on vigorously, all the opinions which the individual Fathers or the recent interpreters have set forth in explaining it need not be maintained equally. For they, in interpreting passages where physical matters are concerned have made judgments according to the opinions of the age, and thus not always according to truth, so that they have made statements which today are not approved. Therefore, we must carefully discern what they hand down which really pertains to faith or is intimately connected with it, and what they hand down with unanimous consent; for ‘in those matters which are not under the obligation of faith, the saints were free to have different opinions, just as we are,’ according to the opinion of St. Thomas.”

***************************************

Referred works:

St. Irenaeus’ quote: Ante-Nicene Fathers. Roberts and Donaldson, Eerdmans, 1985, vol. 1, p. 415, 417).

St. Vincent’s quote: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Eerdmans, 1980, vol. 11, p. 132.

Luther quote: (Leslie Rumble, Bible Quizzes to a Street Preacher [Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1976], 22).

William Webster’s quote: (William Webster, 31).

Black’s Law Dictionary: Black’s Law Dictionary, Henry Campbell Black, St. Paul, MN: West Publ. Co., 1979, p. 1366.

Pope Leo XIII quote: Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma [London: B. Herder Book Co., 1954], 491-492).

****************************************

{ 2 comments }

Cardinal Burke: ‘Highly questionable’ to say Islam worships Christian God and is therefore peaceful

ROME, Italy, August 30, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — It is “highly questionable” to say Catholics and Muslims worship the same God and Islam is a religion of peace, Cardinal Raymond Burke said on a call with reporters Monday.

Burke_hands_810_500_55_s_c1Burke, an American, is the former Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s highest court. He is now the patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.

Burke was speaking to the media about Hope for the World: To Unite All Things in Christ, a newly-published book-length interview with French journalist Guillaume d’Alançon in which the prelate weighs in on a host of controversial topics such as contraception and its relationship to abortion, transgender bathrooms, Holy Communion for the divorced and remarried, and problems within the Catholic Church.

Nostra Aetate, the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on the Catholic Church’s relationship with other religions, “is not a dogmatic document,” Burke said.

Burke was responding to a question about whether Catholics and Muslims worship the same God and whether Catholics are bound to believe Vatican II’s definition of Islam.

“The Church regards with esteem also the Moslems,” Nostra Aetate says. “They adore the one God, living and subsisting in Himself; merciful and all-powerful, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has spoken to men; they take pains to submit wholeheartedly to even His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham, with whom the faith of Islam takes pleasure in linking itself, submitted to God … they await the day of judgment when God will render their deserts to all those who have been raised up from the dead. Finally, they value the moral life and worship God especially through prayer, almsgiving and fasting.”

The recognition that Nostra Aetate is not dogmatic may lead the Society of St. Pius X, a traditionalist group with an irregular canonical status, to full Communion with Rome. Many Catholics view the contentious Vatican II document as unclear or even at odds with Church teaching on Catholicism being the one true faith.

80-percent-london-muslims-support-isisWhether Catholics must embrace Islam as a religion of peace or be considered dissenters was a recent topic of debate between Robert Spencer of JihadWatch.org and Monsignor Stuart Swetland of Donnelly College. The former claims that Spencer’s position that Islam is inherently violent is at odds with the magisterial teachings of recent popes. Supporters of Spencer point out that popes have had varying opinions about Islam throughout the years and that affirming a certain nature of Islam is not related to Catholic faith and morals and therefore is not binding for Catholics. They also say that Catholics should consult Islam itself to determine its nature.

Burke said much of today’s response to Islam is influenced by a religious relativism and holds “we’re all worshiping the same God” and “we all believe in love.”

If “God is love,” how can He be “the same God that commands of Muslims to slaughter infidels and to establish their rule by violence?” Burke asked.

“I don’t believe it’s true that we’re all worshiping the same God,” said Burke. “To say that we all believe in love is simply not correct.”

“Everything that I’ve said about Islam, including especially what’s in the book, is based on my own studies of the texts of Islam and also of their commentators,” the cardinal said. The religious relativism that equates Catholic and Muslim teaching on the nature of God doesn’t “respect the truth” about what each religion teaches, he said. “This is not helpful.”

“Let’s examine carefully what Islam is and what our Christian faith teaches us,” said Burke, because they’re not the same thing.

“Nothing has changed in the Islamic agenda from prior times in which our ancestors” had to defend Christendom from Muslim attacks, Burke said. “They saw that Islam was attacking sacred truth.”

{ 4 comments }

Adventurous last day! Israel Museum, feet in Jordan River, Jericho, Qumran, floating in Dead Sea, riding camels – Farewells and final comments. Final pilgrimage homily here.

 

Fun Farewells and Comments

{ 0 comments }

What Does “Water and Spirit” Mean?

September 26, 2016

Since we are at the VERY place where Jesus was baptized in water and the Spirit came down, I thought I would share this post again. A while ago a Protestant friend tried to prove that Born Again by “water and Spirit” did not mean baptism. Here is one paragraph that he sent me: In John, chapter […]

Read the full article →

4:00 AM Wake Up for Via Dolorosa, Mass at Calvary and Visit to the Tomb on Sunday Morning – and much more

September 25, 2016

4:00 AM wake-up?? Are you crazy?? Yes, crazy like a fox — and everyone thanked us later. What an amazing morning walking the Via Dolorosa arriving at Calvary for Mass and then an entrance into the Tomb on Sunday morning. We came back the to the Notre Dame for breakfast and then off to the […]

Read the full article →

Great Pictures, Charts and Info on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

September 25, 2016

Since we are having Mass in the Holy Sepulchre early this morning I wanted to share these many beautiful and helpful picture, diagrams, charts and more about the Holy Sepulchre. See all this wealth of information written and visual. For me this is the most holy and important spot in the Universe. It is where […]

Read the full article →

Mass at Gethsemane, Mt. of Olives, Upper Room and more

September 24, 2016

Lots of tears at the powerful Mass at Gethsemane. For the homily, click here. The Our Father in multiple languages on Mount of Olives. Steve’s “Story of Salvation History” before going to the Upper Room and more. Steve’s talk at Gethsemane:

Read the full article →

Was Jesus Really Born at THAT Place in Bethlehem?

September 24, 2016

Today we are having Mass at Gethsemane on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. How do we know this is really Gethsemane? And tomorrow we have Mass at Calvary in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Really? How do we know? Yesterday we venerated the place Jesus was born in Bethlehem and had Mass in the […]

Read the full article →

Bethlehem All Day: Nativity, Mass in a Cave, Passover Lamb and Dancing!

September 23, 2016

Great day in Bethlehem! Enjoy! For the homily in Bethlehem’s caves, click here.

Read the full article →

I Choose the Narrow Gate; Wanna Join Me?

September 23, 2016

Jesus said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” (Matthew 7:13–14)

Read the full article →

Boating on Galilee, the Eucharist and Capernaum, Up to Jerusalem, Meeting with Bishop

September 22, 2016

Enjoy today’s adventures! Boat ride on Galilee, viewing ancient 1st century boat, Mass in Capernaum where Jesus said, “Eat My Flesh”, eating St. Peter’s fish. Steve’s conversion story on the drive to Jerusalem, arrival at the Catholic Notre Dame Hotel, meeting with the Bishop of Jerusalem, great dinner and bed…ready for Bethlehem tomorrow.

Read the full article →

Have Kids? Know Kids? Do They Know about the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy?

September 22, 2016

It is not always easy to pass the Faith on to the next generation and we can use all the help we can get. Ken Davidson has produced a lot of things to share with our kids. He has a new product in his Holy Heroes that will help kids understand and practice the Works […]

Read the full article →

Beatitudes, “You are Peter”, Multiplication of Loaves, Primacy of Peter, Magdala and an Over the Top Dinner

September 21, 2016

To much to say. You will just have to watch the videos. Too much for 15 minute YouTube limitations so we did two 10 minute videos. Enjoy! For Fr. Xavier’s homily at Beatitudes, click here. Part I Part II

Read the full article →

Understanding St. Matthew and his Gospel

September 21, 2016

Since it is the Feast Day of St. Matthew, let’s learn a lot about him. Matthew: Understanding the Tax Collector and his Gospel By Steve Ray If looks could kill, he’d be dead. The Jews glared at Levi as he counted his coins. Tax collectors in Israel had great wealth and were considered renegades and […]

Read the full article →

Mount of Transfiguration, Wedding Renewals at Cana, Exploring Nazareth

September 20, 2016

Another great day with a fun and attentive group. First we had Mass on the top of the Mount of Transfiguration. For the homily, click here. Second, we renewed wedding vows in Cana of Galilee, had a great lunch in Nazareth and then went to the Church of Annunciation.  We prayed the Rosary at the […]

Read the full article →

Knights of Columbus Interviews Steve Ray with excerpts from his Footprints Movies

September 20, 2016

This was a fun interview. Starts with my conversion and continues to discuss and show portions of Steve’s documentaries on St. Paul and also Apostolic Fathers. Enjoy! If you would like to help us continue the series — and finish the last two episodes please make a contribution at www.FOGHelp.com. Thanks.

Read the full article →