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03.8.2 The Sanitizing of the Writings of the Church Fathers

The writing of the early church fathers is a wonderful resource in learning what early Christians believed and how different elements of the church including doctrines and rites developed.  However, the problem with reading the early church fathers is that the Roman Catholic Church burned writings they didn’t agree with.  The process was simple. They labeled what didn’t agree with their doctrine as heresy and labeled the writers heretics.  The result: heretics lost their financial standing in the world or worse (death) and their writings were burned.

And we lost valuable resources and insights.

This was no small effort.  The first law causing this cleansing came in 382, by Theodosius, a Christian Emporer.  Slaves could even earn their freedom by ratting out their “heretical” masters!  The Roman Catholic Church acknowledges it.

Here’s proof, an excerpt from New Advent Encyclopedia, a Catholic media:

Heretical teachers were forbidden to propagate their doctrines publicly or privately; to hold public disputations; to ordain bishopspresbyters, or any other clergy; to hold religious meetings; to build conventicles or to avail themselves of money bequeathed to them for that purpose. Slaves were allowed to inform against their heretical masters and to purchase their freedom by coming over to the Church. The children of heretical parents were denied their patrimony and inheritance unless they returned to the Catholic Church. The books of heretics were ordered to be burned.” ( Vide “Codex Theodosianus”, lib. XVI, tit. 5, “De Haereticis”.)[i]

Theodosius is said to be the first who pronounced heresy a capital crime; this law was passed in 382 against the Encratites, the Saccophori, the Hydroparastatae, and the Manichæans.

This policy was in force many centuries.

For this reason, reading what remains of the writings of the early church does not reflect the totality of the early Christian experience.

There are clues to what some “heretical” writers wrote in the apologist’s writings that wrote against a particular heresy.  However, what was written against a “heresy” is probably biased as well as possibly misconstrued.

I write this post with sadness as I feel a great sense of loss as to what some of the lost writings might have told us.  I grieve for those believers.

An example of lost writings being relevant today are the writings of Sabellius in the early third century and the Oneness Pentecostal movement today.  Sabellianism, also called Modal Monarchianism, holds  that the Father is God, the Christ is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.  They are all the same God in different modes, but there is one God.  They are not different persons, they are different modes or operations of one God.

To some this is splitting hairs on explaining how the father, his son, and the holy spirit work, but to Trinitarian apologists this is literally blasphemy even worthy of death.

The Roman Church outlawed this line of reasoning but it has continued to be believed by many professing christains at the risk of even death.  An example is  Michael Servatus who was given the death sentence not only by the Inquisitors but even Calvin lobbied for his execution.[ii]

Whatever happened to “Let the man without sin cast the first stone?”  Can anyone see our Lord commanding the death of anyone let alone men like Sabellius or Servatus?   I think not!

Fortunately  Calvin’s condemnation of Servatus started a Protestant controversy against the death penalty for heresy, but it just goes to show how much the evil influence of ungodly Roman Catholic doctrines was brought with the Reformers into the Reformation.  And what a tragedy it was and still is that many popular early Christian writers were attacked and even killed and their writings destroyed.

For your information, there are millions[iii] of Oneness Pentecostals that rigorously believe in basically what Sabellius taught back in the third century. Let the man without sin cast the first stone at them or burn their writings.

[i] New Advent Encyclopedia, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07256b.htm

[ii] Encyclopedia Brittanica Online, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Michael-Servetus

[iii] https://theologicalmatters.com/2014/06/19/the-assemblies-of-god-the-worldwide-growth-of-pentecostalism/

December 29th, 2018 Posted by | Movements | no comments