Come Hell or High Water, part 8

"And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness..." (Revelation 12:14)
“And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness…” (Revelation 12:14)

We continue now with our series on Revelation 12, a chapter that is an Exodus narrative in which the Woman is shown fleeing from the error of that proceeds from the mouth of the devil and seeking her place of safety in the wilderness. As we have noted in this series, the Woman of Revelation 12 must have taken her leave sometime between the end of the Diocletianic persecution (313 A.D.) and the rise of Roman Catholicism to the seat of civil power among the fragments of the Roman Empire in the last decade of the 4th century.

In this series we have identified the flood of Revelation 12—the error of Roman Catholicism—as it began to spread across the civilized world in the latter part of the 4th century, as well as the noble resistance to the flood by the saints of God who consistently raised objections against the oppressive hierarchy of Roman Catholicism, clerical celibacy, the continuation of the Passover sacrifice under elements of the Lord’s Supper, prayers for the dead, intercession of the saints, the magnification of Mary, the veneration of human remains in the form of relics, veneration of the wood of the cross, baptismal regeneration and Roman primacy. These errors comprised the Flood of Revelation 12—a flood that church historians of all stripes have often mistaken for the teachings of the Church of Christ. The godly resistance to the errors comprised the Woman of Revelation 12—the resistance which church historians of all stripes have often mistaken for heretics.

In reality, many of the late 4th century and medieval “heretics” condemned by Roman Catholicism and church historians alike are actually a continuation of the early church—those who refused the novel errors of Rome and stood firmly on the Scriptures. Likewise, the late 4th century novelties often purveyed as Christianity are actually the “falling away” of 2 Thessalonians 2:3, resulting from the “strong delusion” of 2 Thessalonians 2:11. To that end, we find William Burgh’s 1839 assessment of the Paulicians to be a suitable follow up to to our previous entry on their rejection of Roman error:

“Our knowledge of them is chiefly derived from their persecutors, and we must therefore expect to find them charged with all kinds of heresy and crime. But even amidst these calumnies the main characteristics of a true faith may be seen. They opposed themselves to all the leading points of the superstition and apostacy then rising into power. The worship of the Virgin had taken the place of the worship of God. But the Paulicians, we are told, ‘treated contemptuously the Virgin Mary.’ Relics, especially fragments of the cross, &c, were becoming objects of adoration. ‘They loaded the cross of Christ with contempt.’ The Lord’s Supper began to be turned into a propitiatory sacrifice for the remission of the sins of men. ‘They disparaged the nature and institution of the Lord’s Supper.’ The images of saints shared in the worship awarded to the Virgin, and to the wood of the cross, ‘They held the images of the saints in no reverence.’

“In short, making the necessary allowance for the distortions and calumnies of their enemies, we discern in these early opposers of the papal apostacy, exactly those features which might reasonably have been anticipated.”(Burgh, William, An Exposition on the Book of Revelation, (1839), Churchman’s Monthly Review, January 1842, pp. Seeley & Burnside, London) pp. 781 – 800)

The reason such an organic opposition movement “might reasonably have been anticipated,” as Burgh says, is that the Scriptures plainly informed us of the looming apostasy and the preservation of the Woman. The great falling away would not be universal. There must always be a remnant (Romans 9:27), and there was. The Paulician phenomenon was just one part of that remnant, and there were many more as we have highlighted in this series.

As we proceed it will be worth the time to pause briefly to examine why the Woman has been so long overlooked in the annals of church history, and her members so swiftly condemned, even by their own Protestant progeny. There are two primary reasons:

  1. Christian historians generally accept the Roman Catholic version of Church history well beyond 400 A.D., and therefore do not recognize that what is typically assumed to be the late antique and early medieval “church” was actually the prophesied apostasy.
  2. Christian historians, typically, are not sufficiently familiar with the wiles of Roman Catholic apologists and polemicists, and therefore cannot extract the truth from the tangled misrepresentations, often taking Rome’s analysis at face value, condemning as heretics those whom Jesus loved.

Accepting the Roman Version of History

Regarding item 1—the tendency of Protestants to accept the Roman version of history—we recall that E. B. Elliott, in his Horæ Apocalypticæ, understood the Woman of Revelation 12 and her position in “the heavens” to signify a “political elevation … to recognition as a body politic,” and the political influence the Church gained by being seated in the city of Rome, reaching its apex when Damasus was recognized as the head of the church (Elliott, Horæ Apocalypticæ, vol 3, 2nd ed., Chapter 1, Apocalypse 12:1-12 (London: Seeley, Burnside & Seeley (1846) 10-12). In Elliott’s view, the conflict between the Woman and the Dragon is therefore reduced to the nascent Roman State Church (the Woman) tussling with Pagan Rome (the Dragon) for control over the Roman Empire (Elliott, 15). The Woman’s success in that battle is attributed to Theodosius “applying the two wings of the great eagle” to the Church so that “Roman Christendom” could rise to power and establish “the orthodox and true faith” of Pope Damasus (Elliott, 45).

A more inappropriate interpretation of the figures of Revelation 12 we can scarcely imagine. Here Elliott identified the lovely Woman with the Harlot as if the heavenly ambition of the Bride of Christ was to find herself seated in an elevated position of political power in Rome where she might “coerce the heathens of the empire” better than Pagan Rome had coerced the Christians (Elliott, 12). By focusing on the ascent of the church to political power and legitimizing Damasus’ bloody rise, the protests of Jovinianus, Ærius, Vigiliantius and the rest are thereby marginalized in the history books. Thus, the judgment of Antichrist upon the actual Woman of Revelation 12 is thereby confirmed by Her own offspring.

Phillip Schaff, too (though not in terms so baldly offensive as Elliott’s) stumbled into this error as well, insisting as a matter of course that Protestants are constrained by the historical record to trace their apostolic lineage through the apostate Roman State Church. We have often appreciated Schaff’s historical works, especially his series on the Ante-Nicæan, Nicæan and Post-Nicæan Fathers. But when faced with the choice between the Paulicians and the Roman historians who calumniated them mercilessly, Schaff took the side of Rome and joined her in condemning the Paulicians. The Church is thus required, on Schaff’s high authority, to trace her lineage through the great apostasy of the Roman Antichrist, lest the Church’s apostolic “continuity” be lost:

“These sects have often been falsely represented as forerunners of Protestantism; they are so only in a purely negative sense, while in their positive opinions they differ as widely from the evangelical as from the Greek and Roman creed. The Reformation came out of the bosom of Mediaeval Catholicism, retained its oecumenical doctrines, and kept up the historic continuity.” Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Chapter XII, § 131. The Paulicians., (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.)

And that is the fundamental problem with the bulk of Christian historiography. We have especially highlighted Schaff’s claim of Roman doctrinal and historical continuity to show how the presumption of apostolic continuity is granted to Rome based solely on Rome’s own fraudulent claims of apostolic continuity. Yet, as we have demonstrated repeatedly (i.e., Longing for Nicæa, and The Object of Her Irrepressible Scorn), and as her own scholars flatly acknowledge, apostolic continuity is the very thing Roman Catholicism cannot possibly prove. It was not Pope Damasus, Pope Siricius, Ambrose and Jerome, but rather Jovinianus, Ærius, Vigilantus, Sarmatio and Barbatianus, and the Paulicians who maintained apostolic and historical continuity with the early church and the apostles. Rome’s own scholars know this to be true. They frequently acknowledge that their beliefs cannot be traced any earlier than the latter part of the 4th century, and in moments of candor acknowledge that Jovinianus and his ilk were closer to the orthodoxy of the early church than were Ambrose, Jerome and Siricius who condemned them.

Some examples of this phenomenon are worth quoting from Roman Catholic sources:

On Mary’s sinlessness:

“A significant turning point in the Mariological consciousness of the West does not occur until 377 [A.D.], with the publication of St. Ambrose’s three books On Virginity, addressed to his sister, Marcellina. … the attitude of Ambrose toward Mary is something novel in Latin literature.” (Juniper Carol, Mariology, vol 1 (140-42)).

“The Immaculate Conception was a commonplace of the early Church. Saint Ephraim of Syria testified to it in the [late] fourth century [360 A.D.], as did Saint Augustine in the fifth.” (Scott Hahn, Hail, Holy Queen: The Mother of God in the Word of God,(Doubleday, 2006) 96)

On Mary’s virginity “in partu”:

“[The] early Fathers are not so clear; it is a far cry to the precise formulation by Zeno of Verona who wrote in the last half of the fourth century: ‘Maria virgo incorrupta concepit, post conceptum virgo peperit, post partum virgo permansit.’” (Plumpe, Joseph, C., “Some Little-Known Early Witnesses to Mary’s Virginitas in Partu Catholic University of America)

On Mary as “ever virgin”:

“Since we know that by the [late] fourth century, at the latest, a popular title for our Lord’s Mother was ‘ever virgin’, I believe this qualifies as a Universal Truth, held by all Christians, in all places, in all ages, in all times.” (The Perpetual Virginity of our Blessed Lady)

On Mary as “Mother of God”:

Dionysius of Alexandia (d. 264 A.D.) is alleged to have used the term “ἡ μήτηρ τοῦ Θεοῦ μου” (the Mother of my God) in his epistle Against Paul of Samosata. But “[s]ubsequent criticism has proved that it [the epistle of Dionysius Against Paul of Samosata] is a forgery of the [late] 4th century” (Dublin Review, No. XX, (London: Burnes, Oates & Co.) April 1868) 320-361).

“St. Ambrose first used the title Mater Dei [Mother of God] in the West” (Theotokos: A Theological Encyclopedia of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Michael O’Carroll, 258)

On Mary as Mother of the Church:

“The title was first used in the [late-]4th century by Saint Ambrose of Milan, as rediscovered by Hugo Rahner.”

On pilgrimages and the cult of saints:

“However in the 4th century, there was a significant sea change as the cult of saints and pilgrimage to holy places really took hold in Christian thought and practice.” (Dee Dyas, Director of the Centre for the Study of Christianity and Culture at the University of York, To Be a Pilgrim Tactile Piety, Virtual Pilgrimage and the Experience of Place in Christian Pilgrimage)

On consecrated virginity:

“The ritual of consecration of virgins had become a formal practice in the Western church only at the end of the fourth century” (David Hunter, Cottrill-Rolfes Chair of Catholic Studies at the University of Kentucky, The Virgin, the Bride and the Church).

On Marian theology:

“If there is a single conclusion to be derived from my study, it is that [late 4th century] Jovinian stood much closer to the centre of the Christian tradition than previous critics have recognized; certainly he was closer to early Christian ‘orthodoxy’ than … Ambrose and Jerome … .” (Hunter, David G., Marriage, Celibacy and Heresy in Ancient Christianity (Oxford University Press (2007) 285).

On clerical celibacy:

“We will therefore choose the late 4th century as our chronological basis for inquiry on the birth and development of the law on clerical celibacy rather than the year 325, the date of the First Ecumenical Council.” (Christian Cochini, Apostolic Origins of Priestly Celibacy)

On the sudden focus on virginity in ascetic movements:

“In the later years of the fourth century the ascetic and monastic movements led male Christian writers to devote an extraordinary degree of attention to the bodies of women, especially celibate women.” (David G. Hunter, The American Society of Church History, June 2000 (283-84))

“The author of the anonymous Consultationes Zachaei equals, if he does not surpass, Hilary in his esteem for Mary. He … was also an adherent of the ascetical movement already favored by St. Hilary—a movement which almost literally mushroomed in the second half of the fourth century…” (Juniper Carol, Mariology, vol. II, p. 281).

On the earliest attempts to defend relic veneration:

“The Fathers of the Church take up the theme of the reverence paid to the sacred relics as early as the fourth and fifth centuries.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, Relics)

On the Veneration of the Cross:

“We take this opportunity … to show the antiquity of the Catholic custom of venerating the Cross. Protestant authors insist that there is no vestige of our practice to be found in the records of the first three centuries. In the fourth and succeeding centuries the evidence of this veneration is so plain, that no Protestant writer of importance has ventured to impugn it.” (Parsons, Reuben, Studies in Church History, Volume 1 (2nd edition) (New York & Cincinnati: Fr. Pustet & Co., 1906 (464))

On the inability to trace Roman Catholicism back far enough:

“The acts of the fourth century speak as strongly as its words. … the simple question is, whether the clear light of the fourth and fifth centuries may be fairly taken to interpret to us the dim, though definite, outlines traced in the preceding.” (John Cardinal Newman, On the Development of Christian Doctrine).

On the invisibility of Roman Catholicism in the early centuries:

“[I]f there are early traces of identity of belief, they may be invisible, except to the eye of a Catholic, but perfectly clear to him. … What is intended is, not to assert that the present devotion to Mary existed in the early ages; that may be so or not: but that the principle on which it is based naturally led to it, and may be assumed to have been intended by God to lead to it.” (Jesus, the Son of Mary, by the Rev. John Brande Morris, M.A., 1851, pp. 25-33.)

The list could go on. Over and over and over again, Roman Catholic scholars, historians, popes and apologists are left befuddled by their own inability to prove the apostolic antiquity of their idolatrous novelties, but this does not prevent them from claiming apostolic continuity. In fact, that apostolic continuity is simply assumed, and Protestant apologists and historians simply capitulate to the Roman Catholic claim. The collateral damage from that capitulation is the condemnation of the Woman of Revelation 12, of which condemnation Schaff and Elliott are but a small sampling.

Accepting the Roman Judgment against “Heretics”

Regarding item 2—the Protestant propensity for accepting Rome’s judgment upon late antique and medieval Christians—we bring forward the work of Fred C. Conybeare, and his assessment of the Paulician “heresy” in his excellent work, The Key of Truth: A Manual of the Paulician Church in Armenia. Although there are many such examples from Conybeare, we will bring forward one that sufficiently makes our point. We will also bring forward another accusations made against the “church in the wilderness,” to show that the only charge that can truly be laid at the feet of the Woman is that she loved her Lord and believed His Scriptures.

The example we produce from Conybeare is painful to relate because he so valiantly investigated and exonerated the Paulicians of the charge of being either Marcionite or Manichæan. But other charges against them were maintained, and in contrast with his earlier skepticism, Conybeare was simply too credulous. Our example in this case is the charge that the Paulicians believed that they could change the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper into their own flesh and blood. As we will show, Conybeare was unable to pierce the veil of darkness that enshrouds the Roman Catholic view of history, and therefore could not evaluate the accusations in the light.

Importantly, Conybeare flatly acknowledged that he was ignorant on the Paulician view of the Lord’s Supper: “If we had the Paulician sacramentary we would know more about their view” (Conybeare, cxxxvi). Lacking actual knowledge, he simply accepted the later Roman Catholic accusations against the European Cathars, and attributed those accusations retroactively upon the Paulicians. He concludes therefore that “[w]e cannot doubt that these twelfth-century German heretics held the same theory of the Eucharist as the Paulicians” (Conybeare, lv). It is by this means that Conybeare attempted to back his way into the Paulician view of the Lord’s Table, imputing to them the false Roman Catholic accusations.

His evidence for the charges? Eckebert, the Benedictine Abbot of Schönau (d. 1184 A.D.), reported that there were in Germany certain heretics who rejected the idolatrous Roman Catholic mass and denied transubstantiation:

“They altogether despise, and consider as of no value, the masses which are celebrated in the churches; … For they say that the order of the priesthood is altogether lost in the Church of Rome, and in all the churches of the Catholic faith, and the true priests are not to be found except in their sect. They believe that the body and blood of Christ can be by no means made by our consecration, or received by us in our communion; but they say that they alone make the body of Christ at their tables … [for] they call their own flesh the body of the Lord; and forasmuch as they nourish their bodies by the food on their tables, they say that they make the body of the Lord.” (Eckebert, Sermones Contra Catharos, 1st Discourse, II; Maitland, Samuel Roffey, Facts and documents illustrative of the history, doctrine, and rites of the ancient Albigenses and Waldenses (London: Strong, Bristol and Exeter (1832) 355; see also (Jacques-Paul Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus, Series Latina (PL), volume 195, (Imprimerie Catholique, Paris, 1855) cols 15-16).

“From one man who came out of your hiding places I heard this piece of your wisdom—your body is the Lord’s ; and therefore you make the body of the Lord, when you bless your bread, and support your body with it.” (Eckebert, Sermones Contra Catharos, 11th Discourse paragraph XI, Maitland, 361-2, Migne P.L. 195, col 90).

The “heretics” despised the sacrifice of the mass, rejected transubstantiation and insisted that the bread is made flesh only in the sense that our body is the Lord’s flesh, and when we eat and drink, the bread and wine are metabolized into our flesh, and therefore, Christ’s. Remarkably, that is Conybeare’s “evidence” that the Paulicians believed they changed the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper into their own flesh and blood. But he should have known better since he reports in the very same work that the Paulicians accused the Romanists of changing the bread into “their own flesh and blood and not Christ’s” (Conybeare, 124).

Given the knowledge that the Paulicians believed, based on John 6, that Jesus had given, symbolically (συμβολικως), His own words as food and drink (Petri Siculi, Historia Manichaeorum seu Paulicianorum, R. 18 (Gottingae: Prostat apud Vandenboedk et Ruprecht (1846) pp. 12-13), the meaning of the Paulician observation is obvious: the Lord’s flesh and blood are symbolically His Words of eternal life. The Romanists do not have the words of eternal life, and therefore in the bread and wine of the mass they offer not Christ words to men as symbolical food and drink, but their own words as symbolical food and drink, which cannot save.

Additionally, the Scriptures identify our own physical bodies as the flesh of the Lord, and so the incredulous Eckbert was baffled not by a “heretical” novelty but by the very words of Scripture:

“Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 6:15)

“For we are members of his body, of his flesh” (Ephesians 5:30).

In response to the Roman superstition of transubstantiation, the “heretics” had simply observed that the Romanists do not have the words of eternal life, and further that the only known process by which bread and wine is changed substantially into the Lord’s body and blood is when we eat it and it nourishes and supports our body, which is in fact the Lord’s flesh.

Not only is the Paulician position plainly Scriptural, but that is also how the Early Church spoke of the flesh and blood of the Lord—in the context of the bread and wine nourishing our physical bodies, the meat and drink of John 6 symbolically representing His words of life:

“[S]o likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh” (Justin Martyr, First Apology, chapter 66)

“And as we are His members [Ephesians 5:30], we are also nourished by means of the creation … He has acknowledged the cup (which is a part of the creation) as His own blood, from which He bedews our blood; and the bread (also a part of the creation) He has established as His own body, from which He gives increase to our bodies.” (Irenæus, Against Heresies, Book V, Chapter 2.2)

“Elsewhere the Lord, in the Gospel according to John, brought this out by symbols (συμβολων), when He said: ‘Eat my flesh, and drink my blood;’ [John 6:34] describing distinctly by metaphor (allegories, αλληγορων) the drinkable properties of faith and the promise, by means of which the Church, like a human being consisting of many members, is refreshed and grows, is welded together and compacted of both—of faith, which is the body, and of hope, which is the soul; as also the Lord of flesh and blood.” (Clement of Alexandria, The Instructor, Book I, Chapter 6; see Migne, P.G. VIII, col 296)

The Paulicians had simply invoked the Scriptures to explain their understanding of John 6 and the Last Supper, maintaining that only Christians are legitimately members of “His flesh,” and therefore it is only at the table of Christians that bread and wine can be metabolized into Christ’s flesh. But Conybeare could not see past the Roman accusations, and so was unable to see the Paulician arguments for what they were. Not only were the Paulician arguments purely Scriptural, but they also showed that it was they, rather than the Romanists who had a legitimate connection to the Early Church. Unable to pierce the darkness of Roman Catholic prosecutorial fiction, Conybeare simply accepted the judgment of Eckbert and ran with it. The unfortunate result is that he joins in condemnation of the Woman of Revelation 12.

We will conclude this section with one more example of how false Roman Catholic charges against the “heretics” actually show instead how deeply they loved the Scriptures. The charge that has been leveled against these medieval “heretics” is that they believed that God had two wives who produced offspring. The charge comes from Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay (c. 1209 A.D.), and he writes,

“Also the heretics said that the good God had two wives, Collant and Colibant, and from them begat sons and daughters.” (Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, (Edward Peter, ed) (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania University Press (1980) 111-2)

“Item dicebant haeretici bonum Deum duas habuisse uxores, Collant et Colibant, et ex ipsis filios et filias procreasse.” (Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay, Incipit Historia Albigenses, chapter 2)

Some Protestant historians, like Edmund Burke, when confronted with such shocking charges, were skeptical but otherwise ill-equipped to deal with them. He called the accusation “so absurd and horrid, as almost to leave a suspicion of exaggeration.” (Annual Register, Volume 13 (London (1771) 44). Almost.

We grant to Burke a conciliatory nod of appreciation for even suspecting ill motives in the accusers, but we nonetheless believe he was too hasty in his analysis. Indeed, the accusation actually tells us more about the “heretics” than initially meets the eye. When the veil of darkness is removed, the charges are not so absurd at all, for these “heretics” indeed believed that God had two wives, and further that His two wives begat sons and daughters. In fact there is not a professing Christian who has any warrant whatsoever to deny it, for it a truth revealed to us by God Himself.

While our Roman Catholic readers stand aghast at such “heresy,” we will pause briefly here to remind all of our readers of God’s own testimony about Samaria and Jerusalem, two sisters to whom He was married, who begat sons and daughters to Him, and who were adulterous in their promiscuity:

“Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother: And they committed whoredoms in Egypt; they committed whoredoms in their youth: there were their breasts pressed, and there they bruised the teats of their virginity. And the names of them were Aholah the elder, and Aholibah her sister: and they were mine, and they bare sons and daughters. Thus were their names; Samaria is Aholah, and Jerusalem Aholibah.” (Ezekiel 23:3-4)

Our attentive readers will notice the phonetic similarity between “Aholah and Aholibah” and “Collant and Colibant.” Far from evidence of heresy, the charge leveled by Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay at once proves the “heretics'” familiarity with the Old Testament Scriptures and their accuser’s ignorance of it. In light of God’s description of His two adulterous wives who “bare sons and daughters” to Him, it is not difficult to reconstruct the context that precipitated Peter’s accusation. To the Albigensians, Roman Catholicism was like God’s two apostate wives, Aholah and Aholibah, and there nothing more to be done with Rome than what Ezekiel had. Ezekiel was advised to “judge Aholah and Aholibah,” and “declare unto them their abominations” (Ezekiel 23:36). When the Albigensians did the same thing to the harlot Rome, Peter of Vaux-de-Cernay was oblivious to the context and marveled instead that anyone could believe God had two wives who bore Him sons and daughters. But the “heretics” believed it. Only those who believed and loved the Scriptures could have made such statements to Roman Catholicism, and only someone oblivious to the plain teachings of Scripture could have interpreted it as evidence of heresy.

Exonerating the Woman

We have paused briefly in our series to provide these examples and illustrations, above, in order to show how the Woman of Revelation 12 has for so long been overlooked in the annals of church history, and why her members have been so swiftly and constantly assailed by her own Protestant children. As observed above by William Burgh, our knowledge of the late antique and medieval heretics is largely known only through their persecutors. Even respected Protestant historians have been too credulous in their analysis of the charges. Once the flood of Revelation 12 is identified and the charges against the Woman are examined in the light, “the main characteristics of a true faith may be seen” (Burgh, 794), and she rises in our esteem as the brilliant Woman of heavenly purity described in Revelation 12—those saints “which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Revelation 12:17).

We will continue the series in our next installment.

2 thoughts on “Come Hell or High Water, part 8”

  1. Why do you believe that the 4th century was the “end times”? We are now in the 21st century. The great apostasy would occur in the “end times”.

  2. Riveting and Fascinating. So historians have accepted antichrist Rome’s reversal of history. The true church were the heretics and heretics were the faithful of God keeping his commandments. Just the way Satan wants it. How many Roman Catholics and Protestants have been deceived?! Amazing.

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