Quote of the Day: Authority in the early Church


Many believe that the idea of a Church with hierarchy and structure is a man-made invention – only a result of power grabs and the politicization of Christianity hundreds of years after the life of Christ. This, they say, is when the “Catholic Church” was born.

This is very mistaken.

While such abuse of religion has no doubt taken place in history, this does not mean the True Church that Jesus founded was not “Catholic” or did not have structure and authority. In fact, the evidence suggests that the early Church did have hierarchy, authority, and was distinctly Catholic.  There is evidence of this in scripture if we are open to seeing it. But if we’re still unclear, it is helpful to look at what the Church went out and historically actually did.

Ignatius of Antioch, the third bishop of Antioch, lived during the time of John the Apostle. He ran in the same circle of friends. He knew Polycarp – bishop of Smyrna – who was actually a disciple of St. John. So we can be reasonably sure that people like Ignatius and Polycarp had a handle on Apostolic teaching.

And the writings of Ignatius reveal precisely what the Catholic Church claims to have existed – indeed, precisely what it claims to be.

“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” – St. Ignatius of Antioch (just prior to his martyrdom ~100 AD)

16 comments Add comment

Patricia Prenosil January 14, 2009 at 1:38 pm

I was just writing a lesson plan for middle school youth minsitry about the Church. I was looking online for a timeline of when the different religions and different Christian sects came about. I ran into more than one Christian site that had the Catholic Church being started by Pope Gregory somewhere around 500 AD with a question mark behind it. Someone needs to brush up on their history!

Joe Varghese January 21, 2009 at 8:43 pm

In these modern times, we’ve definitely lost our historical roots … I would encourage checking out your local Orthodox church, especially the Antiochian (http://www.antiochian.org) or OCA (http://www.oca.org) which are wonderful role models for all Orthodox churches.

The One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church in the first few hundred years after Christ was truly a golden age and then came the numerous schisms that still divide. But, with more awareness, knowledge and forgiveness perhaps one day we can regain our unity.

Matthew Warner January 26, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Yep, I hope so too! Just make sure whatever Church you check out is in union with the Pope and Rome.

Joe Varghese February 2, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Hey Matthew .. kinda surprised by your response. We are all united under Christ, not the Bishop of Rome.

It’s just not as simple as a matter of Pope or no Pope.

What I was encouraging you to do was look at the early Church, before Rome and Eastern churches had the schism (i.e., pre-1054). Praying in our lifetime there is an Orthodox/Catholic re-union, but many obstacles including short-sightedness of people who don’t seek to understand early Church history and theological differences.

Joe Varghese February 2, 2009 at 12:28 pm

A good FAQ on the disagreements between our two ancient Churches …


Matthew Warner February 2, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Joe – I will check out your link when I get the chance. I wasn’t trying to over-simplify the schism.

Yes, we are all united under Christ by the means of His bride The Church…which is headed by the Pope. The papacy (in the apostle Peter) was born along with the Church. In fact, the Church was built UPON Peter:

“And I say to you: That you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” – Matthew 16:18

Christ left us a visible head of the Church – precisely to keep us unified.

I do join you in prayer for reunion. God bless you.

Joe Varghese February 2, 2009 at 4:57 pm

I ask forgiveness if this comes across as belligerent, but again urge you to at least take a look at early Church history (specifically the first 400 to 500 years after Christ’s resurrection).

Taking one verse out of context and building an argument is Sola Scriptura … Mathew 16:23 out of context, then is the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church evil? Of course not!

“The Orthodox Church” by Bishop Kallistos Ware presents a good and balanced discussion on the early Church and offers points on both sides that led to the Schism in 1054. In a nutshell, one of many points of difference is whether the Bishop of Rome is both infallible and supreme, or the first among equals (i.e., in brotherhood with other Bishops from Constantinople, etc)

Of course we’ll not solve this in a Wordpress blog, but again just urge to read the historical evidence and the patristic readings as well. We may choose to agree to disagree, but definitely be sensitive that the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that Christ established on this world is much more diverse than just Europe.

Matthew Warner February 2, 2009 at 5:26 pm

I wasn’t building an argument – just making a point. Charges of Sola Scriptura need not apply.

And of course I never suggested that the Church was only as diverse as Europe ??? – not sure where you get that from at all.

I’m not talking about diversity – I’m talking about authority and unity in doctrine and the structure that Jesus established within his Church.

I have looked at the early church quite a bit and continue to do so. I’ve heard many of the arguments for the infallibility and superiority of the Bishop of Rome vs. the first among equals, etc.

Obviously, I believe in the latter for many, many reasons. I would ask that you be open to the chance that perhaps Rome is right about that. I would also ask that you consider even the necessity of the Pope for unity – especially in these times of great division.

But, I will find a copy of the book you suggest and read it. But thank you very much for your thoughts and contributions on here – I hope you’ll continue to do so! God bless you my friend.

Joe Varghese February 2, 2009 at 5:50 pm

Well said Matthew, and thank you :)

On a somewhat related note, a book I really enjoyed reading was the ‘Spirit of the Liturgy’, by the Pope (formerly known as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, of course). I have yet to attend a Tridentine Mass, but the Pope actually clarified many of my own questions on Liturgy (such as why we face East when we pray, etc).

Thanks for giving me airtime on your blog, and look forward to more conversations in future!

Michelle February 25, 2009 at 11:52 pm

Hi Matt,
Hope all is well. Haven’t seen your postings on Facebook. I really enjoy reading them.

Matthew Warner February 26, 2009 at 9:12 am

Michelle – thank you for that! My Facebook account was actually disabled and I’m waiting to hear back from Facebook on why. Unfortunately they are not so good at getting back to people.

It’s been an increasingly common problem for them as they have computers that just disable people’s accounts when they get too active. Then it takes the “real” people weeks to figure out what happened. Hopefully I’ll get it back! But just wanted you to know that I didn’t un-friend you!

And if you can please join this group and sign the petition, I would much appreciate it! God bless you!

Jay Damien August 19, 2009 at 1:17 pm

Hi all – I got here by way of Phatmass. Interesting commentary.
Joe Varghese suggested reading Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware. I have. And I am grieving over my discoverey that the Eastern Orthodox have caved in on moral issues and therefore cannot be the True Church as they claim. In the 1960’s Eastern Orthodox began permitting contraception, after teaching for centuries that it was a sin. They also teach that three divorces are permissible. Flip flop! Reunion will require more than theological reconciliation.

Joe Varghese August 19, 2009 at 8:52 pm

wow .. not sure what to say. If you read Bishop Kallistos Ware and concluded that the Eastern Orthodox have caved in and permit contraception, then you really need to read his works again.

Orthodoxy does not make Christianity an issue about a single moral such as contraception, and also there are many Orthodox bishops and churches (e.g., I’m a member of the Indian Orthodox Church). We also dont have an infallible leader other than Christ .. so, even if a Bishop did say contraception is OK, it definitely does not speak for the universal Church. No Bishop is infallible in this structure.

And, the divorce thing is really screwy … marriage is a Sacrament of the Church, just like in all the Apostolic faiths.

I really, really find it hard to believe you got that from reading Kallistos Ware! He’s one of the most admired theologians, and stresses the importance of Theosis i.e., the transformation of one’s self to be like Christ.

Jay Damien August 20, 2009 at 12:15 am


Joe, I found all of Orthodoxy (Oriental and Eastern) troublesome because of the change in the teaching on contraception, a moral issue involving life itself — not only the prevention of life, but also the destruction of life: The Pill is an abortifacient. One using The Pill never knows whether it acted to prevent a pregnancy or to abort a human being in the earliest stages of life. And perhaps God wanted to create a new life but His Will was obstructed through some other form of contraception. Contraception prevents the Creator from creating. And an Orthodox spiritual father can give permission to a couple to thwart the Will of God? “My will be done!”

Before 1930, all Christian ecclesial communities and the Orthodox Churches taught that contraception was a sin. In 1930, at its Lambeth Conference, the Anglican/Episcopal church reversed itself and began permitting contraception. All other Protestant ecclesial communities followed, some sooner, some later, but all went down this road. Sometime after 1963, the Orthodox also caved in to the pressures of society and began permitting contraception. We have Bishop Ware’s word on it. This leads a Christian to ask: Were the Orthodox right in teaching for about 20 centuries that contraception was a sin, or are they right now and it isn’t a sin? Who did they mislead — those before the change or after? Did God change his mind?

Did only the Eastern Orthodox go off the track? What is the position of the Oriental Orthodox? Or are the OO’s and EO’s divided church by church on the issue? As I read your second paragraph, it would be up to me what I believe about the issue. I seems to me the ancient Orthodox Churches have abdicated their responsibility to teach morals as well as Faith. Is this the mark of the True Church? I don’t think so.

The ancient Catholic Church stands courageously alone on the issue of contraception, resisting every attempt to force her to change her teaching. But since she speaks for Christ, that won’t happen. She is also backed by logic and the force of the natural law.

Here’s what Bishop Ware has written:

The Orthodox Church
Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia)
First Edition, first printing – 1963 – (pg. 302)
“Artificial methods of birth control are forbidden in the Orthodox Church.”

The Orthodox Church
Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia)
First Edition, revised 1984 – (pg. 302)
“The use of contraceptives and other devices for birth control is on the whole strongly discouraged in the Orthodox Church. Some bishops and theologians altogether condemn the employment of such methods. Others, however, have recently begun to adopt a less strict position, and urge that the question is best left to the discretion of each individual couple, in consultation with the spiritual father.”

The Orthodox Church
New Edition
Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia)
Penguin Books, 1997 – (Pg. 296)
“Concerning contraceptives and other forms of birth control, differing opinions exist within the Orthodox Church. In the past birth control was in general strongly condemned, but today a less strict view is coming to prevail, not only in the west but in traditional Orthodox countries. Many Orthodox theologians and spiritual fathers consider that the responsible use of contraception within marriage is not in itself sinful. In their view, the question of how many children a couple should have, and at what intervals, is best decided by the partners themselves, according to the guidance of their own consciences”

A man without a property formed conscience is “tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine” (and morality).

I’ll present the Orthodox teaching on divorce separately. Thanks for the very interesting dialogue. It’s hard for me to understand how contraception — preventing the Creator from creating new life — could lead to Theosis. Please write to me. I’d like to explore infallibility with you also.

Peace be with you, Jay

Jay Damien August 20, 2009 at 7:33 am

Joe, there is much to admire in Orthodoxy. I hope I have not offended you. If I have, I ask your pardon.

From the cache of http://www.stanford.edu/group/ocf/assets/events/MarriageSexRelations042307.pdf (Stanford University)

QUOTE: The [Orthodox] church will permit up to, but not more than, three marriages for any Orthodox Christian. END QUOTE

From “The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers,” Stanley S. Harakas, Archbishop Iakovos, Professor of Orthodox Theology, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, Light and Life Publishing Co., 1988, p. 107:

QUOTE: But for the sake of Christian mercy and compassion and because of her understanding of our human frailty, the Church does grant divorces, and in many cases, the right to remarry. END QUOTE

This recalls Jesus’s words when asked about the teaching of Moses regarding divorce: Mark 10:2: “. . . is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Verse 5: “And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.’ ” Verse 11: “So He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery’ ” The Orthodox Study Bible, p. 109.

Isn’t Orthodoxy permitting ongoing adultery?

Peace be with you, Jay

Peace be with you, Jay

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