Theology

Unanimous Consent of the Fathers

By Steve Ray

The Unanimous Consent of the Fathers (unanimem consensum Patrum) refers to the morally unanimous teaching of the Church Fathers on certain doctrines as revealed by God and interpretations of Scripture as received by the universal Church. The individual Fathers are not personally infallible, and a discrepancy by a few patristic witnesses does not harm the collective patristic testimony.

The word “unanimous” comes from two Latin words: únus, one + animus, mind. “Consent” in Latin means agreement, accord, and harmony; being of the same mind or opinion. Where the Fathers speak in harmony, with one mind overall—not necessarily each and every one agreeing on every detail but by consensus and general agreement—we have “unanimous consent”. The teachings of the Fathers provide us with an authentic witness to the apostolic tradition.

St. Irenaeus (ad c. 130–c. 200) writes of the “tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome’ (Against Heresies, III, 3, 2), and the “tradition which originates from the apostles [and] which is preserved by means of the successions of presbyters in the Churches” (Ibid., III, 2, 2) which “does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us” (Ibid., III, 5, 1). Unanimous consent develops from the understanding of apostolic teaching preserved in the Church with the Fathers as its authentic witness.

St. Vincent of Lerins, explains the Church’s teaching: “In the Catholic Church itself, all possible care must be taken, that we hold that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all. For that is truly and in the strictest sense “Catholic,” which, as the name itself and the reason of the thing declare, comprehends all universally. This rule we shall observe if we follow universality, antiquity, consent. We shall follow universality if we confess that one faith to be true, which the whole Church throughout the world confesses; antiquity, if we in no wise depart from those interpretations which it is manifest were notoriously held by our holy ancestors and fathers; consent, in like manner, if in antiquity itself we adhere to the consentient definitions and determinations of all, or at the least of almost all priests and doctors” (Commonitory 2). Notice that St. Vincent mentions “almost all priests and doctors”.

The phrase Unanimous Consent of the Fathers had a specific application as used at the Council of Trent (Fourth Session), and reiterated at the First Vatican Council (Dogmatic Decrees of the Vatican Council, chap. 2). The Council Fathers specifically applied the phrase to the interpretation of Scripture. Biblical and theological confusion was rampant in the wake of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther stated “There are almost as many sects and beliefs as there are heads; this one will not admit Baptism; that one rejects the Sacrament of the altar; another places another world between the present one and the day of judgment; some teach that Jesus Christ is not God.  There is not an individual, however clownish he may be, who does not claim to be inspired by the Holy Ghost, and who does not put forth as prophecies his ravings and dreams.”

The Council Fathers at Trent (1554–63) affirmed the ancient custom that the proper understanding of Scripture was that which was held by the Fathers of the Church to bring order out of the enveloping chaos. Opposition to the Church’s teaching is exemplified by William Webster (The Church of Rome at the Bar of History [Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1995]) who misrepresents the Council Fathers by redefining and misapplying “unanimous consent”.

First in redefining, he implies that unanimous consent means each Father must have held the same fully developed traditions and taught them clearly in the same terms as used later in the Church Councils. This is a false understanding of the phrase and even in American law unanimous consent “does not always mean that every one present voted for the proposition, but it may, and generally does, mean, when a [verbal] vote is taken, that no one voted in the negative” (Black’s Law Dictionary). Second he misapplies the term, not to the interpretation of Scripture, as the Council Fathers intended, but to tradition. His assertions are not true, but using a skewed definition and application of “unanimous consent”, he uses selective patristic passages as proof-texts for his analysis of the Fathers.

As an example, individual Fathers may explain “the Rock” in Matthew 16 as Jesus, Peter, Peter’s confession or Peter’s faith. Even the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to the “Rock” of Matthew 16 as Peter in one place (CCC 552) and his faith (CCC 424) in another. Matthew 16 can be applied in many ways to refute false teachings and to instruct the faithful without emphasizing the literal, historical interpretation of Peter as the Rock upon which the Church has been built his Church. Webster and others emphasize various patristic applications of a biblical passage as “proof” of non-unanimous consent.

Discussing certain variations in the interpretations of the Fathers, Pope Leo XIII (The Study of Holy Scripture, from the encyclical Providentissimus Deus, Nov., 1893) writes, “Because the defense of Holy Scripture must be carried on vigorously, all the opinions which the individual Fathers or the recent interpreters have set forth in explaining it need not be maintained equally. For they, in interpreting passages where physical matters are concerned have made judgments according to the opinions of the age, and thus not always according to truth, so that they have made statements which today are not approved. Therefore, we must carefully discern what they hand down which really pertains to faith or is intimately connected with it, and what they hand down with unanimous consent; for ‘in those matters which are not under the obligation of faith, the saints were free to have different opinions, just as we are,’ according to the opinion of St. Thomas.”

***************************************

Referred works:

St. Irenaeus’ quote: Ante-Nicene Fathers. Roberts and Donaldson, Eerdmans, 1985, vol. 1, p. 415, 417).

St. Vincent’s quote: Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, Eerdmans, 1980, vol. 11, p. 132.

Luther quote: (Leslie Rumble, Bible Quizzes to a Street Preacher [Rockford, IL: TAN Books, 1976], 22).

William Webster’s quote: (William Webster, 31).

Black’s Law Dictionary: Black’s Law Dictionary, Henry Campbell Black, St. Paul, MN: West Publ. Co., 1979, p. 1366.

Pope Leo XIII quote: Henry Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma [London: B. Herder Book Co., 1954], 491-492).

****************************************

{ 0 comments }

Salvation by Faith Alone?

by Steve Ray on July 30, 2015

Since the days of Martin Luther it has been popular to reduce salvation to a sound bite. Salvation is not by works but by “faith alone.”

However, the Bible seems to have another idea. In my book CROSSING THE TIBER I mention a few passages from Scripture to give a more biblical perspective.

Here is a section from page 100 in my book:

“One last comment, even though it will be discussed in more detail later: there is no attempt here to pit baptism against faith, or belief against baptism.  Things are rarely that simple.  Faith and baptism are two sides of the same coin.  Are we saved by faith or by baptism?  Are we saved by believing or by the Spirit?  These are false dichotomies that should have no place in our thinking.

screen-capture“How does one receive salvation, justification, new birth and eternal life?

By believing in Christ (Jn 3:16; Acts 16:31)?
By repentance (Acts 2:38; 2 Pet 3:9)?
By baptism (Jn 3:5; 1 Pet 3:21; Titus 3:5)?
By the work of the Spirit (Jn 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6)?
By declaring with our mouths (Lu 12:8; Rom 10:9)?
By coming to a knowledge of the Truth (1 Tim 2:4; Heb 10:26)?

By maintaining the faith (Col 1:22-23; Mt 24:13)?
By works (John 5:28-29; Rom 2:6, 7; James 2:24)?
By grace (Acts 15:11; Eph 2:8)?
By his blood (Rom 5:9; Heb 9:22)?
By His righteousness (Rom 5:17; 2 Pet 1:1)?
By His cross (Eph 2:16; Col 2:14)?

“Can we cut any one of these out of the list and proclaim it alone as the means of salvation?  Can we be saved without faith? without God?s grace? without repentance? without baptism? without the Spirit?  These are all involved and necessary; not one of them can be dismissed as a means of obtaining eternal life.  Neither can one be emphasized to the exclusion of another.  They are all involved in salvation and entry into the Church.  The Catholic Church does not divide these various elements of salvation up, overemphasizing some while ignoring others; rather she holds them all in their fullness.

{ 8 comments }

We miss a lot when reading the English Bible. We’re at a great disadvantage. The early Christians read the writings of the apostles in the original language – they understood the words and expressions must better than we do. The original language of the Bible is full of rich imagery, stark reality, and colorful terminology.

Toilets.jpgFor example, Paul writes that he considers all things as refuse that he might gain Christ (Phil 4:8).  We lose the impact of his graphic language. Paul wrote in Greek and in Greek the word refuse means human waste or crap. In Paul’s day it might have been the equivalent of the “sh–” word forbidden in proper communication. Paul used crude language, and it was very graphic for the original readers. Our English translations are very “proper”.

(Picture: Steve sitting on old stone Roman toilets in Philippi, filming in “Paul, Contending for the Faith“)

As a Pharisee, Paul tried to earn his righteousness by his self-righteous efforts and pride. But now that he has learned of faith in Christ and salvation by grace along, he considers his old efforts and self-righteousness to be nothing but crap. English Bibles santize this wording for us :-)

Let’s look at another crude example.  In Galatians 5:12 Paul reacts to the Jewish converts who tried to make the Gentiles get circumcised.  They said the pagans must be circumcised and obey all the 613 laws of Moses to be saved (Acts 15:1).  The heretics made Paul so mad that he says he wished the false teachers would not just cut off the foreskin of the penis but slip and cut the whole thing off.  Ouch!

Flint Knife.jpgEverywhere else this Greek word is used in the New Testament, it is translated “cut it off” but in this passage most prim and proper English translations render the word as “mutilate themselves” though a few say “castrate themselves” or “go all the way and emasculate themselves.”  Paul didn’t mince his words, nor hide his anger and frustration.

(Picture: Ancient flint knife, the kind used for circumcisions in biblical times)

One of my favorite gold nuggets that I discovered in the New Testament is a Greek word used only twice in the whole New Testament. This word relates to God’s two creations.  By reading the English Bible you would never know these two different passages use the same Greek word. But you would never know it from reading the English. When you dig deep you find gold!

What are these two creations of God?  The first is obviously the physical world created “in the beginning.”  The second creation is the Church, into which we are ‘born again” through baptism, a new creation. Both creations were “born” out of water with the Spirit of God hovering over the water (Gen 1:2; Mk 1:9-110, John 3:1-5).

Ready? Well here are the two verses; I have italicized the English words that have the Greek word in common:

First, the physical creation: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20).

Second, the spiritual creation: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Was I right? Would you have known that the underlying Greek word in both verses is poiema? It is the Greek word from which we get our English word poem. In Romans 1:20, five English words are used to translate one Greek word: poiema which refers to the physical created universe.  The word workmanship is what you are, what the Church is. The poem of the Church includes you.

So, God has “written” two poems: the physical world and the Church.  God is a poet, He is an artist, and his two great works of art reveal much about Him as an artist. You can learn a lot from looking at the paintings of an artist or by reading the pages of a poet.  Just as any poet can be understood by reading his work, so God can be understood to some degree by reading his poetry.

Solar System.jpgGo out at night and look at the sky –  ponder the masterpiece of God’s creation. Look at the symmetry and beauty of a flower, the power and creatures of the oceans, the majesty of mountains and thunderstorms. Then look at the Church around the world as she redeems sinners. Think of the billions of people that have accepted her embrace and been born into a heavenly family, a culture of love and blessings. Two marvelous, breath-taking creations.

Any you? You are part of God’s two creations, you are written into his poetry and painted on his canvas.  He treasures you.  You are not a random mass of molecules that happened to appear on lonely planet earth spinning meaninglessly around the sun. No, you are part of God’s glorious poetry that angels admire and God cherishes. Be proud, be thankful!  Live worthy of your place in God’s heart.

So, the New Testament is rich in its vocabulary. It is richer than the English language reveals. Like Paul says, anyone that tries to please God by their meager human efforts has nothing but crap to show for it, unworthy of the kingdom of God. Anyone who says we must be circumcised to be a Christian opposes God’s plan of free grace. Paul wanted them to castrate themselves.

Actually the New Testament is rich in imagery and figures of speech.  You are blessed to be freely made part of God’s two creations. You are beautiful. The Word of God says so!

{ 15 comments }

Interesting Explanation of Baptism from Protestant Dictionary – “baptism…in itself is unimportant”

May 20, 2015

I was looking up Greek definitions of the word baptism and found this interesting “definition.” This dictionary is usually very good but I found this summary of biblical passages on baptism very intriguing and disingenuous. Take a look at this definition and think about it for yourself. Analyze it and the verses used. Notice how they [...]

Read the full article →

Are You Born Again?

May 19, 2015

 Since we are all renewing our Baptismal Vows at the Jordan River today, thought this post from a year ago might be appropriate :-) It seems that God is kind of predictable in a way :-) since He always starts new things in the same way – with “water and the Spirit“. Consider the following: 1) The [...]

Read the full article →

A Baptist Friend Asks: The Bible Says “All have sinned” so how can Mary be Immaculate?

April 6, 2015

A Southern Baptist writes: I am a Southern  Baptist who has a lot of respect for the Catholic faith. The Immaculate Conception is a hard concept for me. Does it also include the belief that Mary never sinned? How does that pass muster with Rom. 3:23 “For all have sinned and come short of the [...]

Read the full article →

Okay, what about Catholics and the Death Penalty?

March 9, 2015

March 9, 2015 By Dr. Ed Peters, Canon Lawyer   (see also The Stream’s: “Should Catholics Oppose the Death Penalty?“) “Dr. Steven Long beat me to it. His rejoinder to the “Capital punishment must end” editorial of America, National Catholic Register, National Catholic Reporter, andOur Sunday Visitor is essential reading even if, in some places, Long’s essay, “Four Catholic [...]

Read the full article →

Marriage in Heaven? Will We Know and Love Our Spouses in Heaven?

February 19, 2015

My dad died almost two years ago. Mom misses Dad and was discouraged about Mark 12:25 which her paraphrased Living Bible improperly rendered “will no be married” in heaven. I wrote the following to comfort my Mom. Mom, I know it is important to you since Dad’s death as you look forward to eternity and [...]

Read the full article →

The Rapture? Not All Evangelical Protestant Scholars Agree

December 29, 2014

I was organizing the 5,000 books in my Logos Bible Software program on my laptop and noticed this quote about the so-called “Rapture” as taught by many Evangelical Protestants. The Rapture is a new Protestant doctrine that was invented in the mid-1800′s in Scotland. The new novelty is mainly based on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. The [...]

Read the full article →

“Sunday Mornings in Ancient Times” or “Why I Teared up Last Sunday”

December 22, 2014

Tears welled up in my eyes — again — at Mass last Sunday. It was not always so. As a former Baptist I used to think the Catholic Mass was a sacrilege and an abomination. How could anyone worship a piece of bread? Really! However, last Sunday I was overcome with emotion while sitting in [...]

Read the full article →

Can You Spot the Errors?

December 20, 2014

This is a typical non-Catholic Creed. It was forwarded by a Catholic asking if they could agree to it in order to get a new job. What do you think of this creed and could you sign onto it? If you think there are errors, what are they?

Read the full article →

Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith Official Affirms Teaching on Absolution, Communion for the Remarried

November 14, 2014

Catholic World News – November 14, 2014 In a letter written three days after the conclusion of the recent Synod of Bishops, the secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith affirmed St. John Paul II’s teaching on absolution for those who have remarried outside the Church. Asked by a French priest whether [...]

Read the full article →

My Updated Article on Infant Baptism

October 29, 2014

Even among Evangelical Protestants there is much debate about Infant Baptism. My old Baptist tradition rejected it as a Catholic tradition of men. Dr. Francis Schaeffer, my favorite Evangelical Presbyterian theologian wrote a booklet entitled Infant Baptism in favor of the practice – my wife Janet was raised Presbyterian and baptized as an infant. It [...]

Read the full article →

“The Sinner’s Prayer” – All You Need to Get to Heaven?

October 9, 2014

When I was a kid, the “Sinner’s Prayer” was a big deal. It was at the heart of everything we knew about Jesus and getting saved. It was almost used as an incantation. My mom coached me to pray the Sinner’s Prayer when I was 4 years old. We knelt together in front of the [...]

Read the full article →

A New Creed for the Modern World

July 8, 2014

Everyone knows the ancient Christian creeds are outdated and passé. It is time we have a new creed that fits everyone.  We believe that God is in all of us; He has been created in our image We believe that each one must find the truth that is right for him. Reality will adapt accordingly. [...]

Read the full article →

A Talk with 2 Purposes: Teach Foundations of our Faith & Demonstrate Verbum Catholic Software

June 23, 2014

Last month I gave a talk in Ann Arbor entitled “The Foundations of our Faith: Scripture, Tradition & Magisterium.” (Watch the video below.) As I love to do, I tied the Old and New Testaments together and showed the continuity that lays the foundation for who and what we are as Catholics today.  But my [...]

Read the full article →