Sunday, April 06, 2008

Our holy and God-bearing Fathers

A quick note on the Early Fathers of the Church. For some of us, they are the end of our arguments, our resistance, against Mother Church. Many converts to Catholicism and Orthodoxy are such because of the testimony of the holy Fathers. But their writings are only writings and, as such, are open to interpretation and misinterpretation as easily as the Scriptures. And they, perhaps, even more so, for they have not the authority of the Scriptures. What I mean to say is that everything an early Father said or wrote or preached is not necessarily orthodox. So while we accept most of their teachings, all of it is still received as right teaching only through the authority of the Church. (As a fundamental example, they are Church Fathers because the Church has recognized them as such.) I have seen the Fathers used to justify all kinds of beliefs; not as often as the Scriptures merely because they are known to a lesser extent.

We rely on the Church and what the Church teaches us. Certainly the Church does not tell us how to think on every issue, but as it concerns many doctrines of the Church she gives us guidance. She sometimes tells us what we must believe; she sometimes tells us what we may not believe. In this way, she saves us from error.

For me, the Fathers were a powerful testimony to the shape of the Church - what it was meant to be, what it looked like from the earliest days. And that shape is shamelessly Catholic, shamelessly Orthodox - sacramental and episcopal (small e): One holy catholic and apostolic Church. The Fathers speak of sacraments and bishops, they give us liturgies. To me, therefore, the Fathers were instrumental in my understanding of authority and of the Church's authority. But, and here is my point, just as they are necessary to the Church, so too is the Church necessary to the Fathers.

1 comment:

Scott Lyons said...

The icon portrays the Fathers of the Council of Nicaea.