In our article last week, Longing for Nicæa, we mentioned that Rome’s relationship with the Early Church manifests in a love-hate dichotomy. She loves to identify with the era in order to allege antiquity, but she hates what she finds there, for it betrays her later origins. Last week we showed how frequently Rome appeals to the Nicæan and ante-Nicæan era to prove the antiquity of her novelties, and how frequently she is rebuffed by the Early Church. This week we show how frequently Rome has to distance herself from the Nicæan and ante-Nicæan church because the Early Church was in fact a different religion from Roman Catholicism.
The Love and the Hate on Mary’s Sinlessness
Consider the doctrine of the sinlessness of Mary. Pius IX alleged ante-Nicæan antiquity to the doctrine, saying that “illustrious documents of venerable antiquity, of both the Eastern and the Western Church, very forcibly testify” to it (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus,1854).
That’s the “love.”
But what of the statements about Mary from the Early Church, statements that reflect a disinterest in her holiness, and “a familiarity which borders on discourtesy” (Evangelical Catholic Apologetics (ECA), The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God from Juniper Carol’s Mariology and Ullathorne’s Immaculate Conception).
What about Tertullian’s statements that Mary is a figure for the Synagogue that rejected Christ? (Tertullian, On the Flesh of Christ, chapter 7). What about Origen’s statement that Mary was a sinner and the sword that pierced her soul (Luke 2:35) was unbelief? (Origen, Homilies on Luke, 17.6-7). What about Basil’s statement that the sword was doubt, and further that Mary was not healed of her sins until after the Cross? (Basil, Letter 260.8-9). What about Chrysostom’s belief that Mary was vainglorious and needed to be corrected of her error? (John Chrysostom, Homilies in Matthew, Homily 44.3). What about Hilary of Poitiers, who Roman Catholic historians reluctantly acknowledge has Mary “destined to undergo the scrutiny of God’s judgment, of faults that are slight”? (see Hilary of Portiers, Tractatus in Ps 118; Patrologia Latina Volume 9 p. 523).
These early writers came to these conclusions about Mary based on what they knew of her from the Annunciation (Luke 1), the Presentation (Luke 2:35), the Wedding at Cana (John 2), Jesus’ teaching ministry (John 7:5, Matthew 12:46), the Crucifixion (John 19:25) and Romans 3:23.
When Protestants use the very same Bible verses to argue, as the Early Church did, that Mary was a sinner like us, we are met with such responses as the following from a Roman Catholic who commented on this site:
“I know what verses you mean, and as is typical with anti-Mary Protestants, you read far too much into it.” (see the comment section of our article, Novel Antiquity)
But if Protestants are “anti-Mary” because we believe Mary was sinful, then the Early Church was “anti-Mary,” too, was it not? What, after all, are we to do with all those “anti-Mary” sentiments of the Early Church?
Pay no attention to them, says the Catholic Encyclopedia. They are all just “stray private opinion”:
“[T]hese stray private opinions merely serve to show that theology is a progressive science.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Immaculate Conception).
As Rome’s apologists painfully acknowledge, the Early Church was clearly unaware of any obligation to represent Mary as sinless:
“It would seem that before Ephesus some prominent churchmen and some of the laity in Alexandria and Caesarea of Cappadocia, in Antioch and Caesarea of Palestine, (a) were not aware of an obligation to represent the Mother of God as utterly sinless; and (b) did not regard the presence of sin, perhaps even serious sin, as incompatible with her singular sanctity” (Evangelical Catholic Apologetics (ECA), The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God)
And there’s the “hate.”
The Early Church rejected the sinlessness of Mary. Just like Protestants.
Yes, the Early Church was so unfamiliar with Rome’s modern beliefs that it was perfectly comfortable representing Mary as guilty of “perhaps even serious sin” and was unaware of any obligation to teach modern Roman Mariology. It was not until 377 A.D. that “a significant turning point in the Mariological consciousness of the West” occurs (Evangelical Catholic Apologetics, The Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God). It was then that Roman Catholicism came along and “restored” the apostolic Church to its full Mariological “health.”
The Love and the Hate on Mary’s Perpetual Virginity
We see the same pattern with the Perpetual Virginity of Mary. As we noted last week, Roman Catholics often perceive that the Church has always taught the perpetual virginity of Mary—before, during and after the birth of Christ. This is how Catholics United for the Faith represents the tradition:
“The Church has always professed that Mary was a virgin ‘ante partum, in partu, et post partum,’ i.e., before birth, during birth, and after the birth of Christ. … The teaching on Mary’s virginity in partu and the ‘miraculous birth’ that did not violate her physical integrity has been clearly taught throughout the life of the Church. … Mary’s virginity post partum, while not explicitly taught in Scripture, is repeatedly taught by the Latin, Greek, and Syriac Fathers.” (Catholics United for the Faith, Mary’s Perpetual Virginity)
That’s the “love.”
There have, however, been modern and ancient detractors. William Most, in his article on Mary’s virginity in partu, complained that modern scholars like Socci, Kasper and Mitterer were teaching that Jesus had opened Mary’s womb with all the usual blood of a normal birth. Most wrote,
“This really was an attempt to redefine virgin birth on the basis of speculation, rather than by following the Magisterium. … So the Holy Office was right in calling the ideas of Mitterer and others, ‘flagrant contradiction to the doctrinal tradition of the Church.’ ” (Fr. William Most, Mary’s Virginity During Jesus’ Birth)
But the Early Church, too, was plainly unaware of this “doctrinal tradition.” As preeminent Roman Catholic Mariologist Fr. Juniper Carol informs us, up until the latter part of the fourth century, the number of Christians who were unaware of the “doctrinal tradition” was simply staggering:
“Tertullian is unmistakably clear—and radical. … he is unsparing in advocating the birth of Christ as entirely normal, and in describing Mary as the mother of several children after Christ.”
“[Origen] expressed himself in terms incompatible with Mary’s virginity in partu…”
“Clement held it [Mary’s virginity in partu] explicitly; [but] he realized that it was not held by a great number, who wished to maintain that Christ’s birth in relation to His mother was perfectly normal and natural;”
“In Egypt, then, we find St. Athanasius clearly teaching Mary’s virginity post partum; however, he is well aware that his view is not universally accepted, but is even attacked. He betrays no surprise at this opposition, and by no means proposes his own views as an article of Catholic faith.”
“[we] find in the East, even in the middle of the fourth century, persons, sometimes of considerable authority and prestige, who attributed to Jesus a veritable cortege of brothers and sisters. … it is evident … in a region of the Greek world, apparently Asia Minor, an important Churchman, without any doubt the Archbishop of Caesarea, St. Basil, did not hold the perpetual virginity of Mary as a dogmatic truth, nor did his metropolitan Churches.” (Juniper Carol, The Perpetual Virginity of the Mother of God, Part II, The Patristic Tradition Concerning Mary’s Virginity).
And there’s the “hate.”
“A great number” maintained that her virginity was not preserved in partu; her virginity post partum was not universally accepted, but was even attacked. The Early Church abhorred any dogmatism on Mary’s perpetual virginity. Just like Protestants.
Yes, the Early Church was so oblivious to the dogmatic position on Mary’s perpetual virginity that it lived for three centuries in “flagrant contradiction” of Rome’s modern Marian dogmas. It is impossible actually to find a consistent credible witness to the perpetuity of her virginity—pre partum, in partu, and post partum—until the end of the fourth century, when Roman Catholicism came along and “restored” the apostolic Church to its full Mariological “health.”
The Love and the Hate on the Use of Incense
This same love-hate pattern emerges on the use of incense in worship. When explaining its use, Roman Catholics cannot exactly pinpoint its origins, and so assume that the Early Church simply must have made use of it. Fr. William Saunders makes this connection for us:
“We do not know exactly when the use of incense was introduced into our Mass or other liturgical rites. At the time of the early Church, the Jews continued to use incense in their own Temple rituals, so it would be safe to conclude that the Christians would have adapted its usage for their own rituals.” (Fr. William Saunders, Why is Incense Used During Mass?)
That’s the “love.”
But there is simply no evidence for the claim. In fact, the early church explicitly rejected its use. Barnabas (c. 130 A.D.), Justin Martyr (100 – 165 A.D.) and Lactantius (250 – c. 325 A.D.), to name a few, condemned the use of incense outright. In his description of New Covenant worship, Barnabas cited Isaiah to explain why incense “is a vain abomination,” and to remind his audience that the Lord had “abolished these things:”
“‘Tread no more My courts, not though you bring with you fine flour. Incense is a vain abomination unto Me, and your new moons and sabbaths I cannot endure.’ [Isaiah 1:13] He has therefore abolished these things, that the new law of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is without the yoke of necessity, might have a human oblation.” [Psalms 51:17; Philippians 4:18]. (Epistle of Barnabas, Chapter 2)
Justin Martyr claimed that we had been taught not to offer incense, but instead to offer prayer:
“[W]orshipping as we do the Maker of this universe, and declaring, as we have been taught, that He has no need of streams of blood and libations and incense; whom we praise to the utmost of our power by the exercise of prayer and thanksgiving for all things wherewith we are supplied …” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, chapter 13)
Lactantius, who died the same year that the Council of Nicæa was convened, wrote to Constantine explaining that even some pagan authors understood the teaching of “the prophets, whom we follow,” rejecting the offering of incense, just as we do:
“But how true this twofold kind of sacrifice is, Trismegistus Hermes is a befitting witness, who agrees with us, that is, with the prophets, whom we follow, as much in fact as in words. … in that perfect discourse, when he heard Asclepius inquiring from his son whether it pleased him that incense and other odours for divine sacrifice were offered to his father, exclaimed: Speak words of good omen, O Asclepius. For it is the greatest impiety to entertain any such thought concerning that being of pre-eminent goodness. … Therefore the chief ceremonial in the worship of God is praise from the mouth of a just man directed towards God.” (Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book VI, chapter 25)
It is such consistent testimony as this from the Early Church that gives pause to Roman Catholic apologists who wish to identify the practice with the Early Church, but cannot overcome the Early Church’s refusal to accept it. Thus, they are left wondering when the Church first began to use incense in worship, unable to explain why they can find no early evidence for its use. The best they can do in this case is the fifth century writings of Pseudo-Dionysius. The Catholic Encyclopedia explains:
“When, exactly, incense was introduced into the religious services of the Church it is not easy to say. During the first four centuries there is no evidence for its use. Still, its common employment in the Temple and the references to it in the New Testament (cf. Luke 1:10; Revelation 8:3-5) would suggest an early familiarity with it in Christian worship. The earliest authentic reference to its use in the service of the Church is found in Pseudo-Dionysius (“De Hier. Ecc.”, III, 2). The Liturgies of Sts. James and Mark — which in their present form are not older than the fifth century — refer to its use at the Sacred Mysteries.” (Catholic Encylopedia, Incense, Use)
All of this of course is swept under the rug of history when Roman Catholics criticize Protestants for not using incense. Those Protestants don’t know what they’re missing! If only they understood the ancient use of incense like we Roman Catholics do!:
“What always strikes me on those occasions is, on entering the church, a strong smell of incense. The fact is, that the 10:00 Mass doesn’t have the massive use of incense of the solemn mass at 11:00; therefore, coming in after the end of the 11:00 mass you immediately notice the difference. Every time that this happens I can’t avoid noticing what the Protestants (most of them, at least) miss not only from a theological point of view (because they are heretics) but from a more practical, eminently human one.” (Mundabor’s Blog, Incense and the Catholic Mind)
And there’s the “hate.”
The Early Church rejected the use of incense in worship. Just like Protestants.
Yes, the Early Church was obstinately opposed to the use of incense in worship for three centuries, until the end of the fourth century when Roman Catholicism came along and “restored” the apostolic Church to its full liturgical “health.”
The Love and the Hate on Icons, Images and Relics
This same love-hate pattern emerges on the use of images, icons and relics in worship. When explaining their use, Roman Catholics simply assume that relics, icons and images were venerated in the Early Church, and then wonder why Protestants cannot just accept that “fact” of history. But history knows of no such “fact.” We have already addressed the alleged veneration of relics in the Early Church in our recent article Diggin’ Up Bones, and we touched on the use of incense, above. Neither were venerated (in the case of relics) or used (in the case of incense) in the Early Church.
On the matter of icons, consider the testimony of former Muslim, Walid Shoebat, who converted from Islam, to Protestantism, and finally through his wife, Maria, to Roman Catholicism. In the process, he discovered that the Early Church was positively overflowing with incense and icons:
“But then when I became Christian, I talked Maria into leaving St. Francis since I was more comfortable attending a Baptist church in which they had no icons. Later I began to ask myself; did my hatred for icons stem from my new faith in Christ, or was it reminiscing my clinging to Islam? But as I researched the oldest Christians and their churches from the first century to the fourth, they presented a problem since all these churches used icons and incense.” (Walid Shoebat, Why Catholics Having Icons Is RIGHT, And Evangelicals Not Having Icons Is WRONG)
That’s the “love.”
But again there is simply no evidence for the claim. We are at a loss as to how Walid can claim that incense was used for the first four centuries when even the Catholic Encyclopedia concedes that “[d]uring the first four centuries there is no evidence for its use.” For precisely this reason, we are skeptical of his claim on icons as well.
To prove the early veneration of icons, Shoebat points to the frescoes on the walls of the catacombs as evidence of early veneration of images in worship, and he also provides a photo of a fish mosaic on the floor of a third century Christian church recently found in a Roman army fort at Megiddo. But the presence of drawings on the walls of the catacombs does not validly imply the veneration of icons. As Schaff notes in his History of the Church, “it is an error to suppose that the catacombs served as the usual places of worship in times of persecution,” and they were not constructed for that purpose. Further, the fish symbol, like that found on the floor of the army fort in Megiddo, is not unique to Christianity—the Romans used it, too. Notably, the actual date of the conversion of the Roman fort to ecclesiastical use is in question, and the evidence is suggestive of a later era than Shoebat has assigned to it.
In fact, on the the matter of the veneration of images, the Roman Catholic Encyclopedia again reluctantly concedes that the Early Church originally forbade the veneration of images. It was only later, under the careful guidance of Rome, that the practice was allowed to develop:
“[I]n the first ages of Christianity, when converts from paganism were so numerous, and the impression of idol-worship was so fresh, the Church found it advisable not to permit the development of this cult of images; but later, when that danger had disappeared, when Christian traditions and Christian instinct had gained strength, the cult developed more freely.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, The True Cross, “Catholic doctrine on the veneration of the Cross”)
The concession that the Early Church actually did not permit the cult of images is consistent with the writings of the Early Church fathers and councils. They reflected a consistent conviction that images must not be used in worship. The Council of Elvira in 309 A.D. explicitly rejected the presence of images in the church:
“Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration.” (Council of Elvira, Canon 36).
Lactantius (250 – c. 325 A.D.) militated against the use of images, because we who worship an unseen God must worship Him with things that are not seen:
“But whoever strives to hold the right course of life ought not to look to the earth, but to the heaven: and, to speak more plainly, he ought not to follow man, but God; not to serve these earthly images, but the heavenly God; … For if God is not seen, He ought therefore to be worshipped with things which are not seen.” (Lactantius, The Divine Institutes, Book VI, chapters 8 and 25)
Even at the end of the fourth century, in 394 A.D., we have the record of Epiphanius’ righteous indignation over an attempt to use icons in worship, for he was “loth that an image of a man should be hung up in Christ’s church contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures” (Jerome, Letter 51.9, From Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, in Cyprus, to John, Bishop of Jerusalem, 394 A.D.)
Thus, when the Catholic Encyclopedia concedes that the cult of images was originally prohibited in the church, until “later, when that danger had disappeared,” what is meant is “later, after the fourth century.” It was not an accepted practice in the Early Church, which simply did not use icons, did not use images in worship and did not venerate relics.
As with the matter of incense, all of this is swept under the rug when Roman Catholics criticize Protestants for being unwilling to venerate images, icons and relics. As we pointed out in Novel Antiquity, Roman Catholic apologist Mark Shea thinks that Evangelicals neither understand nor fully embrace the incarnation, because we refuse to accept as Biblical the veneration of images, icons and relics. In his mind, our refusal to approve their use is evidence of a latent “terror of the Incarnation”:
“Similarly, the horror of the physical—in a word, of the Incarnation—suffuses all that [Evangelical author, Bob] DeWaay has to say. … Any helps such as icons, sacraments and so forth that might address us as physical incarnate beings are marks of ‘apostasy’. … ” (Mark Shea, Fear of the Incarnation and its Discontents)
And there’s the “hate.”
The Early Church rejected the veneration of icons, relics and images, and therefore must have been “terrified” of the incarnation, too. Just like Protestants are ridiculously construed to be.
Yes, the Early Church was strictly opposed to the use of icons, relics and images in worship for three centuries, until after the fourth century, when Roman Catholicism came along and “restored” the apostolic Church to its full liturgical “health.”
The Love and the Hate on the Eucharist
The rose of Rome’s hatred comes to full bloom when we examine the Early Church’s treatment of the Lord’s Supper. As we noted last week, the Douay Catechism claimed that “All the Holy Popes, and Fathers, and Councils of the primitive ages teach that the mass is that self same sacrifice of bread and wine that had been instituted by our Saviour” (Douay Catechism, (1649), pg. 90).
That’s the “love.”
But when we examine Memoriale Domini, a 1969 “Instruction on the Manner of Distributing Holy Communion,” what we find is excuse after excuse about why the Early Church was chronically and hopelessly disrespectful of the elements of the bread and wine, and how Roman Catholicism appeared on the scene to restore the apostolic church to its full Eucharistic “health.”
The 1969 Instruction, Memoriale Domini started off simply enough. Rome’s Sacred Congregation wanted to ensure proper worship of the Eucharist:
“When the Church celebrates the memorial of the Lord it affirms by the very rite itself its faith in Christ and its adoration of him, Christ present in the sacrifice and given as food to those who share the eucharistic table.” (Memoriale Domini)
Thus, this new Instruction “preserves intact the already developed tradition which has come down to us,” while recognizing the “many and important ways” that the rites have changed, “bringing them more into line with modern man’s spiritual and psychological needs” (Memoriale Domini). Of course, the Instruction concedes, “the pages of history show that the celebration and the receptions of the Eucharist have taken various forms” (Memoriale Domini). As we shall discover, those forms were hopelessly “disrespectful” of the “transubstantiated” elements.
For example, the Instruction laments the 20th century desire of some Roman Catholics “to return to the ancient usage of depositing the eucharistic bread in the hand of the communicant” (Memoriale Domini). That usage was strongly criticized for its irreverence, even though communication in the hand was very plainly the practice of the Early Church.
Cyprian of Carthage (200 – 258 A.D.) describes the reception of the elements in the hand, as he exhorts the faithful to martyrdom:
“let us also arm the right hand with the sword of the Spirit, that it may bravely reject the deadly sacrifices; that, mindful of the Eucharist, the hand which has received the Lord’s body may embrace the Lord Himself, hereafter to receive from the Lord the reward of heavenly crowns.” (Cyprian of Carthage, Epistle 55, paragraph 9)
Cyril of Jerusalem (ca. 313 — 386 A.D), too, described reception of communion in the hand. In his Catechetical Lecture on the Sacred Mysteries, he described how to receive the Lord’s supper in the hand without spilling anything:
“In approaching therefore, come not with your wrists extended (τεταμενοις), or your fingers spread; but make your left hand a throne for the right, as for that which is to receive a King. And having hollowed your palm, receive the Body of Christ, saying over it, Amen.” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 23, paragraph 21)
As we noted in our article The Great
Write In Write Out Campaign, Cyril uses a term from the Septuagint, τεταμενοις, that literally means “hanging,” and is so rendered in the Septuagint regarding hanging banners or ribbons in Esther 1:6. These lectures of Cyril are for first-time communicants, and the emphasis here is to teach them how to receive the Lord’s Supper while “giving heed lest you lose any portion thereof.” In other words, receiving the bread with limp wrists and splayed fingers is going to result in an accident. The only reason the advice from Cyril is even relevant to the new communicants is because reception in the hand was considered normative, and these recent converts were about to do it for the first time.
Thus, in Memoriale Domini the Sacred Congregation is forced reluctantly to acknowledge that the Early Church practiced reception in the hand:
“It is certainly true that ancient usage once allowed the faithful to take this divine food in their hands and to place it in their mouths themselves.” (Memoriale Domini)
Nevertheless, Memoriale Domini assures us, when receiving communion in the hand, the Early Church treated the elements with “the greatest reverence” (Memoriale Domini). The evidence Memoriale provides for the reverent handling of the elements in the hand is Cyril’s admonition in the 23rd Lecture. Here is how Memoriale restates Cyril’s warning:
“As a person takes (the Blessed Sacrament) he is warned [by Cyril]: ‘… receive it: be careful lest you lose any of it.’ [St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Mystagogic Catechesis, V, 21]” (Memoriale Domini, ellipsis in original).
The problem for Rome is that part of Cyril’s sentence which was very carefully omitted. The particular reason Cyril was advising the recipient to be especially careful is because his practice was to take the bread in hand, and then touch it to one’s face for reflection before consuming it. Here is Cyril’s complete sentence, highlighting in bold what Memoriale Domini left out:
“So then after having carefully hallowed your eyes by the touch of the Holy Body, partake of it; giving heed lest you lose any portion thereof ” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 23, paragraph 21)
In fact, Cyril goes on in the next paragraph explaining that the recipient should do exactly the same thing with the wine, touching it to the fingers, eyes, forehead, nose and ears when receiving it:
“And while the moisture is still upon your lips, touch it with your hands, and hallow your eyes and brow and the other organs of sense.” (Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures, Lecture 23, paragraph 22)
We can see why Memoriale Domini was constrained to omit this precise description of how “reverently” the Early Church handled the elements. There is only one word that can describe this irreverent handling of the elements in the Early Church:
Cyril’s advice for the communicant to rub “Jesus” on one’s face is so thoroughly incompatible with the reverence that Rome currently claims is due to the sacred species, that many Roman Catholics simply assume that his 23rd Lecture has been corrupted by a heretic:
“Considered in context, it becomes suspect. For it speaks of a strange custom entirely alien to the highest veneration which the faithful have always had for the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. … In view of this unheard of liberty which is incompatible with the total veneration due to the Sacred Species, those who are learned in these matters think of an interpolation … made by the Patriarch John, the successor of St. Cyril in Jerusalem … [who was] of suspect orthodoxy. ” (Receiving Communion on the Hand is Contrary to Tradition, The Catholic Voice, 2001)
“This rather odd (or even superstitious? Irreverent?) recommendation has caused scholars to question the authenticity of this text. Some think that perhaps there has been an interpolation, or that it is really the saint’s successor who wrote it.” (Jude Huntz, Rethinking Communion in the Hand, parentheses in original)
“The description of such a bizarre Communion Rite … was most certainly not preached by St. Cyril in the Church of Jerusalem, neither would it have been licit whatsoever in any other Church. What we have here is a rite which is a product of the imagination, oscillating between fanaticism and sacrilege, by …an anonymous Syrian, a devourer of books, an indefatigable writer who poured into his writings, indigested and contaminated figments of own his imagination. … a crypto-Arian, influenced by Origen and Pelagius…” (The great Catholic horror story: the pseudo-historical deception of Communion in the hand)
These Roman Catholics are positively beside themselves with disbelief at Cyril’s irreverent handling of the elements—and this from the very passage that Memoriale Domini used to prove that the Early Church handled the elements with “the greatest reverence”
In reality, Cyril’s full sensory contemplation of the elements is of very little concern to Protestants, for Cyril is simply treating the elements as they are: symbols. Cyril uses the same symbolic language for the elements as he does for the holy oil, which is symbolically applied to one’s forehead (Lecture 21, paragraph 3), and baptismal water, in which our bodies are symbolically dipped (Lecture 20, paragraph 3). Sure, the oil, the water and the bread and wine were “holy” to Cyril, but only because they symbolized something else, not because they were what they symbolized. Thus it was perfectly appropriate in Cyril’s mind to apply the elements to the face and ears and fingers for full reflection.
And this is what is doubly ironic about Memoriale Domini‘s attempt to downplay the ancient “irreverence” of receiving communion in the hand: their evidence from Cyril to prove early reverence toward the elements actually contains within it the insistence that the elements were symbols. As Cyril wrote in the same lecture:
“[F]or they who taste are bidden to taste, not bread and wine, but the anti-typical [symbolical] Body and Blood of Christ.” (Lecture 23, paragraph 20)
When examined in the light of context and history Cyril’s use of the elements is hardly offensive. If he really believed the elements were symbolical, we can hardly be offended at his handling of them. At least no more than we can be offended at the application of oil to the face or water to the body. Symbols are just symbols.
But Rome cannot accept the alleged “irreverence” of the Early Church. Therefore she reminds the faithful that the practice of receiving the Lord’s Supper in the hand eventually had to be abandoned in a later age when Rome came along to correct the practice of the Early Church of receiving communion in the hand. It was only then that there developed a “deepening understanding of the truth of the eucharistic mystery,” and a “greater feeling of reverence towards this sacrament.”
Since Cyril’s Lectures were from 350 A.D., we gather that this “deeper understanding” and “greater feeling of reverence” came after the latter part of the fourth century. Memoriale Domini therefore goes on to explain how Rome came along to rescue the apostolic church from her errant ways:
“Later, with a deepening understanding of the truth of the eucharistic mystery, of its power and of the presence of Christ in it, there came a greater feeling of reverence towards this sacrament and a deeper humility was felt to be demanded when receiving it. Thus the custom was established of the minister placing a particle of consecrated bread on the tongue of the communicant. This method of distributing holy communion must be retained, taking the present situation of the Church in the entire world into account, not merely because it has many centuries of-tradition behind it, but especially because it expresses the faithful’s reverence for the Eucharist.” (Memoriale Domini).
Those “many centuries of tradition” that express a reverence for the Eucharist come well after the fourth century. Yet because of how relentlessly the alleged antiquity of Roman novelties has been impressed upon the Roman Catholic mind, it is no great wonder that many Roman Catholics actually cannot countenance the practice of the Early Church. There can be only one logical explanation for it: a Protestant conspiracy:
“Communion in the hand … was introduced in the 16th century by the Protestant Reformers specifically to repudiate belief in … the Real Presence.” (Michael Davies, Communion in the Hand and Similar Frauds)
And there’s the “hate.”
The Early Church lacked a deep “understanding of the truth of the eucharistic mystery,” received communion in the hand, and freely treated the symbolic elements as symbolic elements, and therefore must have been grossly unaware of the “greater feeling of reverence” that was owed to them. Just like Protestants.
Yes, the Early Church received communion in the hand for three centuries, until Roman Catholicism came along and “restored” the apostolic Church to its full Eucharistic “health.”
The Love and the Hate of Kneeling on the Lord’s Day
The very same love-hate pattern emerges on the matter of kneeling on the Lord’s Day. As we noted last week, Rome loves to claim ante-Nicæan antiquity for her current practice.
That’s the “love.”
But it is not difficult to discover that the early Church actually forbade kneeling on the Lord’s Day. To deal with the inconsistency, Pope Benedict XVI simply papered over the difference with a stroke of his pen. He wrote,
“The twentieth canon of Nicæa decrees that Christians should stand, not kneel, during Eastertide” (Benedict XVI, The Spirit of the Liturgy, p. 192).
That is a half truth. Nicæa prohibited kneeling not only “in the days of Pentecost,” but also on Sunday—all year long:
“Forasmuch as there are certain persons who kneel on the Lord’s Day and in the days of Pentecost, therefore, to the intent that all things may be uniformly observed everywhere (in every parish), it seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.” (Canon XX, Council of Nicæa, 325 A.D.)
The reality is that Rome introduced kneeling in the eleventh century when the practice of Eucharistic adoration was added to the liturgy. Because Pope Benedict could not fathom a religion that forbade liturgical kneeling before the Eucharist in adoration, he conveniently assumed that where it did not exist, it must simply have been lost—as if it had not been forbidden outright for a millennium. He thus inadvertently criticized the Early Church along with all those who do not kneel at church:
“Where it has been lost, kneeling must be rediscovered.” (Benedict XVI, 194)
A church that does not kneel on Sundays, Benedict said, is “sick at the core,” and thus did he relegate the entire Early Church to the ecclesiastical Emergency Room:
“[A] faith and liturgy no longer familiar with kneeling would be sick at the core” (Benedict XVI, 194).
And there’s the “hate.”
The Early Church was unfamiliar with Rome’s modern practices, and so she was “sick at the core” and did not get healthy until the eleventh century under Rome’s careful guidance. Of course, Benedict could not possibly imagine the truth: that it might be Rome, not the Early Church, that is “sick at the core.”
The Object of Her Scorn
To summarize, Protestants are criticized as “anti-Mary” for their Scriptural view on Mary’s sinfulness—a view the Early Church shared. Protestants are judged for their “flagrant contradiction” of Rome’s view on the perpetual Virginity of Mary—just like the Early Church. Protestants are mocked for rejecting the use of incense in worship—just like the Early Church. Protestants are scorned for rejecting the veneration of icons, images and relics—just like the Early Church. Protestants are blamed for introducing communion in the hand and treating the elements of the Lord’s Supper as symbols—just like the Early Church. Protestants are treated with contempt for not kneeling on Sunday—just like the Early Church.
But that is not all, and our list could go on and on. As we showed in our series on The Invisibly Shepherded Church, Protestants just don’t “get” the need for a visible chief shepherd on earth, or an earthly chief metropolis—just like the Early Church. As we showed in our series on Baptismal Regeneration, the Early Church didn’t “get” that, either. And as we showed in our series, Their Praise was their Sacrifice, neither Protestants, nor the Early Church “get” the sacrifice of the mass. As we noted in The Rise of Roman Catholicism, the Early Church did not know that Peter was the first bishop of Rome, did not teach the Dormition and the Assumption of Mary, or that Mary was the Mother of the Church, did not use candles in worship, did not teach transubstantiation and did not adore the Eucharist. All of these were introduced at the end of the fourth century and later. We hardly need to speak of priestly celibacy—another practice foreign to the Early Church.
Thus, the Early Church rejected papal primacy, Roman primacy, papal infallibility, priestly celibacy, the immaculate conception, the perpetual virginity, dormition and assumption of Mary, Mary as Mother of the Church, transubstantiation, eucharistic adoration, the sacrifice of the Mass, kneeling on the Lord’s Day, baptismal regeneration, candles, relics, images, the title Pontifex Maximus, communion on the tongue, etc… etc… etc…
But aside from that, the Early Church was completely Roman Catholic.
Of course, we jest. Indeed, it was not until Roman Catholicism actually emerged at the end of the fourth century that the Apostolic Church was ostensibly “rescued” from the apostles themselves, and stopped being so chronically “sick at the core,” to use Benedict’s words.
In light of the historical record that militates so relentlessly and strenuously and catastrophically against Roman Catholicism’s claim of antiquity, it is difficult to swallow Cardinal Newman’s painful revision of ecclesiastical history in his Essay on the Development of Doctrine. Those silly Protestants! They just. Don’t. Get. History!:
“To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant. And this utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. Protestants can as little bear its Ante-nicene as its Post-tridentine period.” (John Henry Cardinal Newman, Essay on the Development of Doctrine, Introduction, paragraphs 5 & 6).
The “utter incongruity,” in truth, is the three century gap that exists between Rome’s version of history and reality, to which gap her own apologists repeatedly and emphatically testify.
To drive that point home, we close this week by returning again to Scott Hahn:
“The Immaculate Conception was a commonplace of the early Church.” (Scott Hahn, Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God, (Doubleday, 2006) 96)
There’s the “love.”
“Saint Ephraim of Syria testified to it in the [late] fourth century [360 A.D.], as did Saint Augustine in the fifth.” (Hahn, 96).
And there’s the problem. The late fourth century is the best Rome can do.
In the enormous confusion caused by the galactic incongruity between Rome’s claims to antiquity and what history actually shows about Rome’s novelties, a disciple of Hahn, Elizabeth Esther, converted to Roman Catholicism believing that she had finally submitted to what the Holy Spirit had taught the Early Church:
“To be honest, when I was a Protestant, all these Marian doctrines confused me. … Ultimately it came down to an issue of trust: could I trust that the Holy Spirit had led the early church?” (Elizabeth Esther, Why the Immaculate Conception Makes Protestants Squirm)
And there’s the scorn.
Roman Catholics think that by rejecting Rome, Protestants have rejected the Holy Spirit Who is incorrectly alleged to have led Christ’s Church into these grossly unbiblical doctrines. But the Early Church did not practice them.
The question Elizabeth ought to have asked—and would have, had she been deep in history and deep in the Scriptures—is “What spirit, what ungodly power, had created Roman Catholicism at the end of the fourth century, and why was he attempting to carry Christ’s True Apostolic Church away into Rome’s idolatry and error?”
“The dragon,” as it turns out, “was wroth with the woman” (Revelation 12:17). And because the dragon gave to Roman Catholicism “his power, and his seat, and great authority” (Revelation 13:2), Roman Catholicism could do nothing else but pour out her irrepressible scorn upon the Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ.
It is in Rome’s nature to do so, and she cannot do otherwise.