2017-09-12 21:50:36 UTC
Since the Bible fails to mention certain doctrines and practices that are now considered characteristically Christian, some branches of Christianity have looked to early traditions to justify them. But the results are disappointing. Few genuine traditions can be justified in this way, and worse still, early authorities often confirm many practices that are now regarded as unacceptable. For example, a return to the earliest practices would mean that no religious icons would be allowed, either pictures or statues. The use of incense would be prohibited as pagan. On the other hand, Christians would hold love feasts, and celebrate the Sabbath on Saturdays. Easter would be celebrated on the 14th day of the Jewish month of Nisan. Infants would not be baptised, and adults would not be baptised except between Easter and Pentecost. Baptisms would then involve the triple immersion of the naked baptismal candidate. There would be no sacrament of confession or penance, or if we accept the earliest (third century) practices there would be only public penance (exomologesis), permitted once after baptism1. There would be no priests or bishops, only elders and supervisors, freely elected by the community.
The whole area of "tradition" is riddled with difficulties. The early Church leader and writer Tertullian, who invented the idea of appealing to tradition, used it to justify the practice of triple immersion at baptism, the requirement that the Eucharist should be taken in the early morning, and the prohibition of kneeling at Easter or on Sundays. There is no doubt about the position of the early Church on these matters and it is for this reason that various reformed Churches have returned to at least some of these ancient practices.
The Roman Church is in a less comfortable position. It purports to give great weight to tradition — the importance of traditions dating back to the apostles was emphasised by the Council of Trent (Session 4). Yet it has persecuted and killed people for the heresies of adhering to apostolic practices — rejecting infant baptism, keeping the Sabbath on Saturday, celebrating Easter on the 14th of Nisan, and so on. Protestant Churches have also persecuted and killed other Christians (e.g. Anabaptists) for such "heresies". It is strange enough that apostolic practices are sometimes at variance with mainstream Christian views. Worse is the fact that not a single Church doctrine can be justified by appeal to a reliable apostolic tradition.
The Roman Church's commitment to tradition is widely regarded as questionable. The Church has never attempted to collect together a comprehensive body of tradition, and it is not unknown for Roman Catholic writers to be charged by other Christians with being evasive, and even "fugitive", on the subject3. This is not altogether surprising since numerous Roman doctrines are not evidenced by the Church Fathers, and are universally acknowledged to date from later times (papal infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, and Mary's Assumption, to name but three ).
It is difficult to find any Church Fathers who were consistently orthodox by modern standards. Indeed the problem of deciding who counted as a Church Father was much like deciding which books were canonical. People tended to include anyone who agreed with them and to reject anyone who did not. Since there were so few accepted Fathers, broad agreement was eventually reached, though once again there is no definitive list, and Eastern and Western Churches still accord vastly different weights to different Fathers4. Since it was difficult, often impossible, to find orthodox writers who confirmed certain doctrines or practices, Churches were driven to accept as authoritative men who had been condemned as heretics. Some of them had been considered heretical even in their own day. Their original writings were conveniently "lost" or tampered with. Many of these early Christians had extremely unfortunate views on sex and punishment, shared extreme anti-Semitic views, and firmly believed a range of absurdities. The most influential were:
St Ignatius of Antioch (AD c.35-c.107). Ignatius was an unusually credulous man, given to embellishing stories, and with an unusual personality (he prayed for his own death, preferably by horrific means). He held that only bishops could conduct baptisms and love feasts5 - he is the first writer to hint that "bishops" might be different from "presbyters", and that Christ might be something more than human. He left little else of doctrinal value, and what little he did leave is universally acknowledged to have been radically tampered with by later Christians. By the 5th century, his letters had been enlarged by spurious writings, and the original letters had been supplemented with interpolations, created to posthumously enlist Ignatius as a witness in contemporary theological disputes. The purported eyewitness account of his martyrdom is also thought to be a forgery from around the same time.
St Clement of Rome (fl. AD c.96). Clement wrote letters that were initially accepted into but later rejected from the canon of Christian scripture. They deal largely with the great dissent then current within the Church, and suggest that there was no established bishopric at Rome during his lifetime6. (Ironically his name was later included in lists of early popes, though different lists have him as first, second, third or fourth in line from Peter). According to acta dating from the 4th century, Clement was banished from Rome to the Chersonesus during the reign of Emperor Trajan, and set to work in a stone quarry. He was allegedly killed by being tied to an anchor and thrown from a boat into the Black Sea.
Clement used the terms bishop and presbyter interchangeably - a reminder that bishops had not separated off as a higher office at this time. Clement seems to have been as credulous as others of his age (he was convinced in the reality of the phoenix). The stained glass window on the right shows him along with his fabulous phoenix. Much of his surviving work is now known to be forged, and little is known of his life or beliefs.
Much more at http://www.badnewsaboutchristianity.com/ac0_fathers.htm