More light from history on the Catholic faith
The Catholic Church claims an unbroken line back to the days of the New Testament; bishops standing in apostolic succession to the apostles of Jesus Christ and carrying forward the faith once delivered. The claim rests on good evidence. One link consists of seven letters from Saint Ignatius of Antioch. The link is so strong and the letters so Catholic-looking that they require a response from the thoughtful Protestant. The Ignatian evidence demands a verdict.
More help from Cardinal Newman
In An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman refers to the Reformers’ evidentiary disadvantage when they decided to cut themselves off from two major teachings of the church, thus separating themselves from historic Christianity:
Two instances are obvious to mention, of an accidental silence of clear primitive testimony as to important doctrines, and its removal. In the number of the articles of Catholic belief which the Reformation especially resisted, were the Mass and the sacramental virtue of Ecclesiastical Unity. Since the date of that movement, the shorter Epistles of St. Ignatius have been discovered, and the early Liturgies verified; and this with most men has put an end to the controversy about those doctrines. John Henry Cardinal Newman, An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (Notre Dame Series in the Great Books) (1994) [Kindle iOS version], Retrieved from Amazon.com at 119.
Seven bridges road
Cardinal Newman refers to the Bishop of Antioch’s seven letters written along ancient Roman roads, circa A.D. 110. The correspondence drips with Catholicism. “These letters were addressed to the Christians . . .
of Ephesus (Pros Ephesious);
of Magnesia (Magnesieusin);
of Tralles (Trallianois);
of Rome (Pros Romaious);
of Philadelphia (Philadelpheusin);
of Smyrna (Smyrnaiois); and
to Polycarp (Pros Polykarpon).
The Ignatian evidence provides an important link between the church at the end of the first century (after the passing of Saint John the Evangelist, the last living apostle) and the beginning of the second century. It matters because we need to know how the apostles understood and interpreted the faith recorded in Sacred Scripture. It matters because, since Martin Luther cut the cord to antiquity with the novelty sola Scriptura, we have countless denominations, traditions and interpretations of Scripture. Indeed, since we have a revealed religion, we want to know what is really true, without reliance on our own subjective beliefs.
So many Catholic doctrines are found in Saint Ignatius’ letters, to include:
the Church was Divinely established as a visible society, the salvation of souls is its end, and those who separate themselves from it cut themselves off from God (Philadelphians 3)
the hierarchy of the Church was instituted by Christ (Introduction to Philadelphians; Ephesians 6)
the threefold character of the hierarchy (Magnesians 6)
the order of the episcopacy superior by Divine authority to that of the priesthood (Magnesians 6 and 13; Smyrnæans 8; Trallians 3)
the unity of the Church (Trallians 6; Philadelphians 3; Magnesians 13)
the holiness of the Church (Smyrnæans, Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians and Romans)
the catholicity of the Church (Smyrnæans 8);
the infallibility of the Church (Philadelphians 3; Ephesians 16-17)
the doctrine of the Eucharist (Smyrnæans 8), which word we find for the first time applied to the Blessed Sacrament, just as in Smyrnæans 8, we meet for the first time the phrase “Catholic Church”, used to designate all Christians
the Incarnation (Ephesians 18);
the supernatural virtue of virginity, already much esteemed and made the subject of a vow (Polycarp 5)
the religious character of matrimony (Polycarp 5)
the value of united prayer (Ephesians 13) [and]
the primacy of the See of Rome (Introduction to Romans 13)
Likelihoods, probabilities and certainties
Again, do these seven letters really matter? Since the truth matters, how the early church understood the mysteries of the faith is supremely important. It is reasonably likely, if not probable, that the students of the Apostles, who became priests and bishops in the ancient churches, faithfully handed on interpretations and traditions learned from those same men who walked with Jesus. Indeed, given (1) the unblushing promises of our Lord that the Holy Spirit would lead the Apostles into all truth (Jn 16:13), (2) the church as the pillar and foundation of the truth, (3) the canon of Scripture not officially settled until A.D. 405, (4) and ordinary believers not having copies of the Scriptures for another thousand-plus years, I believe it a certainty that God preserved the faithful interpretation of Scripture in His church using Apostolic Fathers such as Ignatius of Antioch.
If it’s too much to believe that the faith lasted pristinely from the first generation of Christians to the second, then upon what ground is any article of faith held? I cast my lot with this holy bishop from Antioch.
What do you believe and why do you believe it?
ONE LORD. ONE FAITH. ONE BAPTISM.
AS FOR ME, I KNOW THAT MY VINDICATOR LIVES, AND THAT HE WILL AT LAST STAND FORTH UPON THE DUST. THIS WILL HAPPEN WHEN MY SKIN HAS BEEN STRIPPED OFF, AND FROM MY FLESH I WILL SEE GOD: I WILL SEE FOR MYSELF, MY OWN EYES, NOT ANOTHER’S, WILL BEHOLD HIM: MY INMOST BEING IS CONSUMED WITH LONGING. JOB 19:25-27*
*New American Bible Revised Edition