Patristics/Church History

The Bishop with all our Clergy in Thessaloniki

The ancient Christian writer and theologian Tertullian once asked the Church, “What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?”

He asked the question as Christianity spread from Israel into the Greek world; and as Greek intellectuals looked for deeper insight into the Christian mystery. Tertullian was asking whether pagan Greek culture—philosophy, poetry, the arts, history and literature—had anything of value for those first missionaries proclaiming the Christian gospel.

Two weeks ago, on a plane landing in Athens, I asked myself Tertullian’s question.  I was in Athens to begin a spiritual pilgrimage to Greece and Turkey “in the footsteps of St. Paul.” I was with a group of pilgrims celebrating the 15th anniversary of Spirit Catholic Radio: eight priests from Lincoln and Omaha; three deacons;140 lay Catholics from across Nebraska and beyond. 

We were led by Steve and Janet Ray, expert pilgrim leaders, and Jim and Karol Carroll of Spirit Catholic Radio. It was a joy and a grace for me to walk as a pilgrim in the footsteps of St. Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentiles, with fellow disciples of Jesus Christ from our state.

Our Ship Docked on Island of Patmos

By cruise ship on the Aegean Sea, we visited and celebrated Holy Mass in Thessoloniki, Philippi, Istanbul, Pergamon, Ephesus, Patmos, Athens and Corinth. We heard talks at these holy sites, given by Steve Ray, Catholic convert, author and film maker, who leads Catholic pilgrimages all over the world.  We heard inspiring homilies by holy priests. We prayed together for all the special prayer intentions we brought with us from home.

Everywhere I traveled, I asked myself “what does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?” In Athens itself I learned the answer: Athens has everything to do with Jerusalem.  The Gospel can only really be understood in the midst of understanding culture; to understand Christianity as Western Catholics, we need to understand the fundamental history of western civilization.

The Bishop and Steve on Mars Hill in Athens where St. Paul Taught

When St. Paul arrived in Athens, he preached the gospel at the famous Areopagus, a gathering place just beneath the Parthenon. He was able to speak to the Greeks in their own language. He was able to quote Greek poets and philosophers. He appealed to Greeks in their own cultural language because he was schooled in Tarsus, the successor to the school of Athens as the center of learning and education in Asia Minor.

Paul was run out of town after his first visit to Athens.  But he was able to plant the Lord’s seeds of conversion in the hearts and minds of the Athenians—the movers and shakers of the ancient world. He would eventually come back to cultivate those seeds that were planted.

Paul was able to use his fluency with the language, culture and customs of the Greek world in order to present the compelling message of Jesus Christ in a way that was attractive and persuasive. To be sure, St. Paul suffered a great deal during his missionary journeys to the Greek world. The Greeks were highly educated and influential. They were also utterly pagan. They worshiped false gods, they were self-indulgent and decadent, and they were infatuated with progress, technology, and the latest new fad. Paul preached to a world not much different than ours today….

The whole article is excellent and you can read the rest of it HERE. Also on Zenit.org.

You will find out why the picture below was the highlight of Bishop Conley’s trip.

Iraqi's in Athens

 

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Chair of Moses, Chair of Peter

by Steve Ray on October 14, 2014

Click on the picture below to read the whole article

Click on pictures above to see the whole article

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St. Cyprian of Carthage (beheaded 257 AD) one hundred and fifty years before the New Testament writings were collected into one book called “The Bible”:

“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: and whatever things you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth, they shall be loosed also in heaven.’

“And again He says to him after His resurrection: ‘Feed my sheep.’ On him He builds the Church, and to him He gives the command to feed the sheep; and although He assigns 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?”

To read the whole article and see all the pictures, click on the pictures above.

For my DVD “Peter, Keeper of the Keys” and my book “Upon this Rock: Peter and the Primacy of Rome in Scripture and the Early Church, visit http://www.SteveRaysStory.com.

 

 

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As a Protestant, I went to an Evangelical church that changed an important and historical word in the  Apostles Creed. Instead of the “holy, catholic Church,” we were the “holy, Christian church.” At the time, I thought nothing of it. There was certainly no evil intent, just a loathing of the Catholic Church and a distinct desire to distance ourself from its heresy and man-made traditions. 

 I assumed that early on Catholics deviated from “biblical Christianity” so they simply invented a new word to describe their new society. Since we Evangelicals were supposedly the ones faithful to the Bible we had no interest in the word catholic since it was found nowhere between the covers of the Bible. It was a biased word loaded with negative baggage so we removed it from the Creed. 

 I should have asked myself “Where did the word catholic come from, and what does it mean?” Was I right to assume that Roman Catholics invented the word to set themselves apart from biblical Christianity? 

 A short and interesting investigation will turn up some valuable information. Let’s start with an understanding of doctrinal development and the definition of catholic, then  let’s “interview” the very first Christians to see what they thought of the Church and the word catholic and then we will study the Bible itself. 

 How Doctrines and Words Develop
The development of doctrine is not just a Catholic phenomenon. It is also a fact among Protestants and all religions or theological traditions. Over time, theological words develop to help explain the deeper understanding of the faith. As Christians ponder the revelation passed on by the apostles and deposited in his Church the Church mulls over God’s Word, thinking deeper and deeper. It is not unlike peeling the layers away from an onion as one goes deeper to the heart. 

 Development of doctrine defines, sharpens, and interprets the deposit of faith. The Bible is not a theological textbook or a detailed church manual, such as say a catechism or study guide. The Bible’s meaning is not always clear as St. Peter tells us (2 Pet 3:15?16). Thirty-three thousand competing Protestant denominations also make this fact apparent as they fail to agree on what the Bible says. It takes the authority of a universal Church and the successors of the apostles to formulate the doctrines of the faith. As an Evangelical, I was naïve enough to think I could recreate the “theological” wheel for myself.

  To illustrate doctrinal development, let’s look at the word trinity. The word trinity never appears in the Bible, nor does the Bible give explicit formulas for the nature of the Trinity as commonly used today, such as “one God is three persons,” or “three persons, one nature.”  Yet, the word Trinity, as developed within the Catholic Church, is an essential belief for nearly every Protestant denomination. The first recorded use of the word trinity (trias) was in the writings of Theophilus of Antioch around the year a.d. 180.  Although not found in the Bible, the early Church developed words such as Trinity, which are used to define and explain basic, essential Christian doctrines. 

Interestingly, while many Protestants object to the idea of development of doctrine within the Catholic Church, they seem to have no problem with developments in their own camp—even novelties and inventions. Take for example the Rapture, another word not found in the Bible and not used in any theological circles until the mid-19th century. After a prophetic utterance from two women at a Scottish revival meeting, the new doctrine of the Rapture spread like wildfire through England and America.

 It was the Catholic Church that defined the Blessed Trinity, the divinity and humanity of Christ—the hypostatic union of two natures in the one divine person of Jesus—, salvation, baptism, the Blessed Eucharist, and all the other doctrines that have been the bedrock of the Christian faith. It is also the Catholic Church that gave birth to the New Testament—collecting, canonizing, preserving, distributing, and interpreting them. 

As a Protestant I was quite willing to unknowingly accept the Catholic Church’s teaching on the Trinity, the deity of Christ, the closed canon of the  New Testament, etc., but I willfully rejected the full teaching of the Catholic Church. I now realize that it is in the Catholic Church that we find the fulness of the faith and the visible, universal body of Christ.

 The Word “Catholic” Defined
However, we have yet to define the word catholic. It comes from the Greek katholikos, the combination of two words: kata- concerning, and holos- whole. Thus, concerning the whole. According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, the word catholic comes from a Greek word meaning “regarding the whole,” or more simply, “universal” or “general.” Universal comes from two Greek words: uni- one, and vertere- turning. In other words, a “one turning”, “revolving around one,” or “turned into one”. The word church comes from the Greek ecclesia which means “those called out,” as in those summoned out of the world at large to form a distinct society. So the Catholic Church is made up of those called out and gathered into the universal visible society founded by Christ.

In its early years, the Church was small, both in geographically and numerically. For roughly the first decade the Church was made up exclusively of Jews in the area of Jerusalem. The word catholic hardly seemed to apply. But as the Church grew and spread across the Roman Empire, it incorporated Jews and Gentiles, rich and poor, Romans, freemen, and even slaves—men and women from every tribe and tongue. But by the third century, oneout of ten people in the Roman Empire was a Catholic. Just as the word Trinity was appropriated to describe the nature of God, so the term catholic was appropriated to describe the nature of Christ’s body, the Church. 

But let’s get back to the history of the word catholic. The first recorded use of the word is found very early in Christian literature. We find the first instance the writings of St. Ignatius of Antioch who was a young man during the time of the apostles and the second bishop of Antioch following Peter. Ignatius was immersed in the living tradition of the local church in Antioch where the believers in Christ were first called Christians (Acts 11:26). He was alive early enough to know the apostles and was taught and ordained directly by the apostles. 

From the apostles St. Ignatius learned what the church was from the apostles themselves. From them he learned how it was to function, grow, and be governed. History informs us that St. Peter was the Bishop of Antioch at the time; in fact, Church Fathers claim that St. Ignatiuis was ordained by St. Peter himself.Ignatius must have worshiped with Peter and Paul and John. He lived with or near them, and was an understudy of these special apostles. St. Ignatius of Antioch is known and revered as an authentic witness to the tradition and practice of the apostles. 

 In the existing  documents that have come down to us, St. Ignatius is the first to use the word catholic in reference to the Church. On his way to Rome, under military escort to the Coliseum where he would be devoured by lions for his faith, he wrote, “You must all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ follows the Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8).  

 Another early instance of the word catholic is associated with St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, who used the word many times. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John just as St. John was a disciple of Jesus. Like Ignatius, Polycarp also suffered the martyr’s death in a coliseum in a.d. 155. In the Martyrdom of Polycarp, written at the time of Polycarp’s death, we read, “The Church of God which sojourns in Smyrna, to the Church of God which sojourns in Philomelium, and to all the dioceses of the holy and Catholic Church in every place” (Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrnam, Preface)  

 Later in the same book it says, “When Polycarp had finished his prayer, in which he remembered everyone with whom he had ever been acquainted . . . and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world.” They then gave him up to wild beasts, fire and finally, the sword. The epistle then concludes, “Now with the Apostles and all the just [Polycarp] is glorifying God and the Father Almighty, and he is blessing our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world” (8).

 So we clearly see that early in the second century Christians regularly use the word catholic as an established description of the Church.  From the second century on we see the term catholic being used consistently by the theologians and writers. One can easily conclude that catholic was a very early description of the Church, probably used by the apostles themselves

 St. Augustine in the  fourth century, relaying the tradition of the early Church, minces no words asserting the importance and wide-spread use of the term catholic. He writes, “We must hold to the Christian religion and to communication in her Church which is Catholic, and which is called Catholic not only by her own members but even by all her enemies” (The True Religion, 7, 12). And again, “[T]he very name of Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that, although all heretics want to be called Catholic, when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house” (Against the Letter of Mani called “The Foundation”, 4, 5).

 The early usage and importance of the word can also be seen by its use in both the Apostles and the Nicene Creeds. If you were a Christian in the first mellenia you were a Catholic, and if you were a Catholic you recited the Creeds affirming the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Unhappily, some people today try to make a distinction between Catholic with a capital “C” and catholic with a small “c”, but such a distinction is a recent development and unheard of in the early Church.

 Biblical Understanding of the word “Catholic”
Jesus commissioned his apostles with the words “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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19, 20). As Frank Sheed reminds us, “Notice first the threefold ‘all’—all nations, all things, all days. Catholic, we say, means ‘universal.’ Examining the word ‘universal,’ we see that it contains two ideas, the idea of all, the idea of one. But all what? All nations, all teachings, all times. So our Lord says. It is not an exaggerated description of the Catholic Church. Not by the wildest exaggeration could it be advanced as a description of any other” (Theology and Sanity [San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1993], 284).

 Jesus used the word church twice in the gospels, both in Matthew. He said, “I will build my Church” (Mt 16:18). He didn’t say churches as though he were building a subdivision; nor did he imply it would be an invisible church made up of competing groups. He was going to build a visible, recognizable church. And in Matthew 18:17 Jesus said that if one brother offends another they were to take it to “the Church”. Notice the article “the” referring to a specific entity. Not “churches” but one visible, recognizable church that can be expected to have a recognizable leadership with universal authority. 

 One can see the sad state of “Christendom” today by comparing Jesus’ words about “the Church” with the current situation. If a Methodist offends a Baptist, or a Presbyterian offends a Pentecostal, which “church” do they take it to for adjudication? This alone demonstrates the problem when 33,000 plus denominations exist outside the physical bounds of the “one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” Jesus expected there to be one universal, authoritative, visible and Catholic Church to represent him on earth until his return.

 Just before he was crucified, Jesus prayed not only for the universality and catholicity of the Church, but for her visible unity:

 “[T]hat they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that  You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me” Jn 17:21?23 NASB).

 The early Church understood Jesus’ words. What good was an invisible, theoretical, impractical unity? For the world to see a catholic unity, the oneness of the Church must be a visible, real, physical, and visible reality. All of this the Catholic Church is. Since the earliest centuries Christians have confessed that the Church is “one, holy, catholic and apostolic.” One because there is only one, visible, organic, and unified Church; holy because she is called out of the world to be the Bride of Christ, righteous and sanctified; catholic because she is universal, unified, and covers the whole world; apostolic because Christ founded her (Mt. 16:18) through his apostles, and the apostles’ authority are carried on through the bishops. Through the centuries, this creed has been the statement of the Church. 

 In these last days, Christians need to stand confident and obedient in heart of the Catholic Church. She has been our faithful Mother, steadfastly carrying out the mandate of Jesus Christ for 2,000 years. As an Evangelical Protestant I thought I could ignore the creeds and councils of our Mother, the Church. I was sadly mistaken. I now understand that Jesus requires us to listen to His Church, the Church to which he gave the authority to bind and to loose (Mt 16:19; 18:17)—the Catholic Church, which is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim 3:15).

 Steve Ray is the author of Crossing the Tiber, Upon this Rock, and St. John’s Gospel. You can contact him at his website at www.CatholicConvert.com

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How Old is your Church?

September 20, 2013

How Old Is Your Church? If you are a Lutheran, your religion was founded by Martin Luther, an ex- monk of the Catholic Church, in the year 1517. If you belong to the Church of England, your religion was founded by King Henry VIII in the year 1534 because the Pope would not grant him [...]

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Why You Don’t Have to Worry about Malachy’s Predictions on the New Pope and the End of Time

March 10, 2013

Al Kresta interviews Jimmy Akin about Malachy’s Predictions

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Did Eastern Church Father St. John Chrysostom’s Accept the Primacy of Peter?

November 27, 2012

Many non-Catholics like to argue that St. John Chrysostom, Doctor of the Church, did not accept the Primacy of Peter. I have written much about this in my book Upon This Rock. I have written on it extensively on my website HERE (scroll down to 3rd section “My Books”) The Navarre Bible Commentary gets this [...]

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Two New Doctors of the Church

October 9, 2012

Vatican City, Oct 7, 2012 / 10:31 am (CNA/EWTN News).- Pope Benedict XVI has named two new Doctors of the Church: the 16th century Spanish priest St. John of Avila and the 12th century German nun St. Hildegard of Bingen. St. John of Avila was a priest, mystic, preacher and scholar. Pope Benedict announced his [...]

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Social Importance of the Catholic Church

July 10, 2012

We are members of the oldest Christian religion in the world. The Catholic Church was founded in the year 33 by our Lord Jesus Christ. We have the real body and blood of Christ in our communion and bishops are in constant succession from the apostles through the laying on of hands through 2,000 years.The [...]

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“Where Does the Bible Say We Should Pray to Dead Saints?” – Resources about Communion of the Saints

May 30, 2012

I compiled a list of Catechism, Scripture and quotes from the early Church Fathers and even archaeology to assist in understanding the Communion of Saints. You can download the source material here. Sample: Who should carry the most weight—Protestant pastors protesting Catholic theology today or pastors from the early Church who have the words of [...]

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Three Tours of Church of St. Paul in Rome

November 18, 2011

Join us on a future pilgrimage to Rome, or the Footprints of St. Paul Cruise, or Israel, Ireland or others. Check out www.SteveGoes.com, or call Suzanne at 800-727-1999. The Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls launched a newly renovated Web site to collect prayers, offer a virtual tour, and further the Apostle’s worldwide evangelization [...]

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Visit St. John Lateran with me today for the Feast of Its Dedication

November 9, 2011

I am in Rome and decided to run to St. John Lateran this morning a make a video — so all of you could enjoy the Feast Day of the Dedication of St. John Lateran Church on November 9, 313. Yup, that’s right! It was the first Christian church ever built and it was the [...]

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Question about Divisions in the Church: Response from my Journey Home Interview

October 4, 2011

I received a LOT of response from my appearance on EWTN’s The Journey Home with Marcus Grodi. One letter arrived with this comment, which is followed by my response. QUESTION FOR STEVE: 1 Corinthians 1:1:10-17 demonstrates that there was division among the churches and the the four groups were all acceptable. Additionally, the Roman Catholic [...]

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Archaeologist Discovers Tomb of Apostle Philip Where Tradition Says He Was Martyred

July 27, 2011

Everyone who knows me even a little knows how much I love Scripture and the history of the Early Church. That is why I get excited about news about biblical people and places. I have a goal (almost completed) to visit the tombs of all the biblical characters. Today a new discovery was announced … [...]

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Running through the Deaths and Bones of Sts. Peter and Paul

May 9, 2011

Two days ago, right before leaving Rome for home, I took off on a 16-mile run through Rome to follow the martyrdom’s and burials of the two Princes of the Apostles: Peter and Paul. Both of them shed their blood in Rome for Jesus and the Church. Peter was crucified upside down in Nero’s Circus [...]

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From Cocaine to Catholic

February 4, 2011

Rob Grassley wrote his conversion story and posted it here. It was very popular. Now he wrote a letter to a friend explaining in simple terms why he became Catholic — and why they should to. You might enjoy this short defense of the faith written in a kindly way to a good friend. It [...]

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England and New Dawn Conference

August 6, 2010

Finished my three talks at New Dawn where 2,000 fired up Catholics gather in tents for a week of family camping outdoor Masses and teaching. Great to be here. Lots if new contacts to help promote my return next year for a full two day apologetics conference at Westminster Cathedral and to again visit New [...]

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