Archive for the ‘JND Kelly’ Category

Review of "The Fathers Know Best" by Jimmy Akin

June 9, 2011

“Catholic Answers” recently published a book attributed to Jimmy Akin entitled “The Fathers Know Best.” It purports to be “Your essential guide to the teachings of the Early Church.” The book does not provide any meaningful contribution to the study of patristics and little to the Roman-Reformed dialog.

Content in General
Part one of the book (pp. 15-93) contains an introduction to the book itself, some discussion of “the World of the Fathers,” and some brief discussion of the authors, councils, and works cited in part two, as well as an identification of heresies.

Part two of the book (pp. 97-418) is the obvious focus of the book. It provides a series of topics, with a brief introduction (sometimes as short as a single paragraph, sometimes as much as about two pages) and then a collection of quotations allegedly on the topic.

Quality of the Content
The book has no significant interaction with viewpoints opposed to Rome’s. There is virtually no interaction with respect to non-Roman understandings of the Fathers and there is little interaction with theological disagreements with Rome. The most significant interactions with non-Roman positions are found in the sections on reincarnation and the Anti-Christ, but even they are not particularly in depth.

There is almost no analysis of the fathers’ writings. In general, the quotations from the fathers are simply presented without any individual explanation. There is an occasional footnote, but there is no detailed explanation provided as to why particular quotations should be understood to support the Roman position.

The selections from the early writings that are selected for the purpose of promoting the idea that the fathers and Rome taught the same thing. The result is not a representative picture of the fathers’ writings. Odd patterns emerge when one reviews the quotations cited: St. Sechnall of Ireland gets quoted four times, but Gregory the Great gets cited only once.

Originality of the Content
Apparently there were no original translations provided in this work. The book acknowledges that part two is mostly a rehash of a column from This Rock magazine. Moreover, the content of that magazine has already been amalgamated on-line. Based on a cursory review, it appears that the on-line version may have slightly more quotations. In some cases, however, the translation selected for the book differs. In some cases, the exact end-points of the quotation differs, even if the translation is the same. The introductions to the material are expanded, and – of course – part one of the book is apparently new material.

Scholarly Character of the Content
In part one of the book, aside from an initial burst of citations to Scripture, citations in general are rare. The content of part one may or may not be accurate, but you only have Akin’s word for it, in general.

In part two of the book, Scripture is sometimes cited and the Catechism of the Catholic Church is also sometimes cited. Occasionally a papal work, such as an encyclical, or similar source of Catholic dogma is cited and at least once or twice an encyclopedia, such as the New Catholic Encyclopedia is cited. Aside from those citations, citations to scholarly works are relatively rare.

Almost all of the citations (leaving aside Scripture and magisterial sources) are to J.N.D. Kelly. Kelly’s Early Christian Doctrines, is cited on pp. 160, 175, 183 (2x), 256, p. 292-3 (3x), and 299, sometimes at considerable length. As with the quotations from the fathers, the quotations are selected based on what Akin believes is helpful, with the inconvenient comments from Kelly omitted.

Second to Kelley is Luther, whose Large Catechism is cited on p. 267 and whose Smalcaid Articles are cited on p. 412 (alongside the Westminster Standards in that instance). The few other cited authors are one-offs. Shirley MacLaine is cited on p. 399 and Geddes MacGregor is cited on that page as well. Ramsay MacMullen is cited on p. 359, and Timothy “Kallistos” Ware is cited at p. 138.

In all or almost all of these cases, the citation is provided with a quotation rather than simply being a citation to support an assertion allegedly grounded in the author cited. In fairness to Akin, I should point out that he provides citations to every one of his “More than 900 quotations” (I did not verify this claim) from ancient writings.

Merit of the Quotations
Whether the quotations support the point for which they are used is something of a mixed bag. Previously, we discussed an example of a misused quotation in this book. Perhaps in other posts, we will discuss other issues with other quotations.

It should also be pointed out that a lot of the quotations are not from fathers at all. Some of the quotations are from folks like “Pseudo-Ignatius,” “Pseudo-Melito,” and “Pseudo-John” as well as to anonymous works.

It’s not surprising that I don’t recommend this book. Although a significant amount of effort was doubtless put into improving the introductions and providing part one of the book, the effort didn’t yield something particularly worthwhile. Instead, by and large the book is simply a collection of quotations that Akin seems to think are helpful to Rome’s view of history.

Akin’s approach is neither scholarly nor apologetic. He does not interact in a significant way with the Reformed objections to Rome’s historical claims, and his collection of quotations is not accompanied by any serious in-depth examination of what the quotations say.

If one is looking for some new and interesting contribution to the field of patristics or Roman-Reformed dialog, one will be very disappointed by Akin’s work. On the other hand, if what you want is a propagandizing quote book, you cannot shell out the money for the much better done Jurgens’ set, and you don’t wish to use the web site indicated above, then perhaps this book is for you.

Here’s one quotation from Gregory the Great that you won’t get in “The Fathers Know Best”:

Gregory the Great commenting on Job 15:10:

But that those things which they [i.e., heretics] maintain they recommend to the weak minds of their fellow-creatures as on the ground of antiquity, they testify that they have ancient fathers, and the very Doctors of the Church themselves they declare are the masters of their school; and whilst they look down upon present preachers, they pride themselves with unfounded presumption on the tutorage of the ancient fathers, so that they avouch that the things they themselves assert the old fathers held as well, in order that what they are not able to build up in truth and right, they may strengthen as by the authority of those. See Library of the Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Gregory the Great, Morals on the Book of Job, vol. II, Parts III and IV, Book XII, Chapter 28, §33 (Oxford: Parker, 1845), p. 66.

Latin text: Sed ut ea quae asserunt commendare stultis mentibus hominum quasi de antiquitate possint, antiquos patres se habere testantur, atque ipsos doctores Ecclesiae suae professionis magistros dicunt. Cumque praesentes praedicatores despiciunt de antiquorum Patrum magisterio falsa praesumptione gloriantur, ut ea quae ipsi dicunt, etiam antiquos patres tenuisse fateantur, quatenus hoc quod rectitudine astruere non valent quasi ex illorum auctoritate confirment. Moralium Libri, Sive Expositio In Librum B. Job, Liber XII, Caput XXVIII, §33, PL 75:1002A-B.


P.S. Quote books have their place. However, quote books should provide something better than what is out there.

Pastor David King Responds to Taylor Marshall

January 9, 2010

The following is a response from David King to Taylor Marshall’s comments on the earlier Erasmus thread (link to Mr. Marshall’s comments). I’ve made only minor edits to what Pastor King and Mr. Marshall wrote. I’ve also added some editorial footnotes both to Mr. Marshall’s comments and to Pastor King’s comments.

Jesuits and Roman Unity

Mr. Marshall wrote: Mr. King, Contemporary Jesuits tend to be the most subversive religious order within the Catholic Church – known from their dissent. Many are rather “Protestant” [FN1] – so don’t take this random Jesuit quote as indicative of Catholic tradition.

David King Responds: Then I guess that the Roman magisterium doesn’t really live up to all you folks make it out to be. Where is the ecclesiastical discipline for these, the “most subversive religious order” within the Roman communion? The fact that Schatz’s observation of early church history disagrees with yours doesn’t make him wrong. As a Jesuit he does hold orders in your communion, while you hold no official position among the clergy. What makes your censure of Mr. Schatz any more than that of a private judgment? It is interesting how members of the Roman communion cry out against the exercise of all private judgment if they think a Protestant has engaged in such, while they reserve it for themselves against their own clergy.

Clement of Rome and Early Christian Views of Rome

Mr. Marshall wrote: Then you provide a quote reads: “If one had asked a Christian in the year 100, 200, or even 300 whether the bishop of Rome was the head of all Christians, or whether there was a supreme bishop over all the other bishops and having the last word in questions affecting the whole Church, he or she would certainly have said no.” (Schatz quote)
This can’t be right. Let’s look at what actually Christians from this period said and wrote about the Church of Rome.

Pope [FN2] Clement of Rome (ca. 89-96) wrote: “The church of God which sojourns at Rome to the church of God which sojourns at Corinth … But if any disobey the words spoken by him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger.” Clement of Rome 1,59:1

David King Responds: Yes, let’s do look at it, in context. In the first place, this is a rather anachronistic designation which you have assigned to Clement. There is absolutely no historical evidence to support your designation of him as “pope.” This tradition is without support because the office of the monarchical bishop, as it later came to exist, is no where present in Rome at this time. Leadership in Rome as this time had, according to 1 Clement 44:1-6 had been entrusted not to one, but a plurality of bishops, also known as presbyters. The very assertion of this claim that Clement was a “pope” is clearly based upon nothing more than wishful thinking on the part of Romanists.[FN3] This letter was composed by the Church of God at Rome to correct the behavior of the Corinthians, the majority of whom were responsible for removing their ecclesiastical leaders for no just cause.

This piecemeal quotation you’ve put together, which connects the beginning of the letter to the 59th chapter of this epistle is clearly not the result of your own study, but something you’ve lifted from a Roman apologetic web site. This is a prime example of the kind of misrepresentation of which you’ve accused me. The Church at Rome is simply pointing out to the Corinthians that they have trampled on the rights of their duly appointed elders. This is far from claiming some papal or Roman primacy over the Church at Corinth, whose members were in rebellion, not against Rome, but their own clergy.

As I indicated, you have cherry-picked this piece-meal quote which can be found in this form at a number of Roman apologetic web sites. The presupposition behind this proffered piece-meal citation is ludicrous, and fraught with anachronistic wishful thinking. In Chapter 57, 1 Clement instructs the Corinthians to “submit to [their] presbyters and accept discipline leading to repentance.” The admonition of 1 Clement refers this letter as “our advice [notice the plurality] and you will have nothing to regret.” (1 Clement 58)

This letter is giving biblical instruction to the congregants at Corinth to correct them. You haven’t demonstrated to me that you are even familiar with the intent of the letter. Clement appears to be acting as the secretary of the presbyters at Rome in the sending of this pastoral letter. This is nothing here that offers any proof for a papal or Roman primacy of jurisdiction. They urge the Corinthians saying:

But if certain people should disobey what has been said by him [i.e., Jesus Christ, whose commands they have been citing to the Corinthians] through us [notice again the plurality, not papacy], let them understand that they will, entangle themselves in no small sin and danger. We, however, will be innocent of this sin, and will ask, with earnest prayer and supplication, that the Creator of the universe may keep intact the specified number of his elect throughout the whole world, through his beloved servant Jesus Christ, through whom he called us from darkness to light, from ignorance to the knowledge of the glory of his name.

(1 Clement 59)

The misrepresentation here belongs to you, Mr. Marshall. You would be well served to invest some time in meaningful research, instead of offering some piecemeal quotation like this one from some Roman web site, or Denzinger’s Sources of Catholic Dogma.

We learn from the early church father Jerome who confesses the obvious from Scripture in his commentary on Titus, that in the beginning the churches were governed by a common council of presbyters, and that bishops were appointed to be above presbyters by custom rather than divine appointment!

Jerome (347-420):

A presbyter, therefore, is the same as a bishop, and before dissensions were introduced into religion by the instigation of the devil, and it was said among the peoples, ‘I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, and I of Cephas,’ Churches were governed by a common council of presbyters; afterwards, when everyone thought that those whom he had baptised were his own, and not Christ’s, it was decreed in the whole world that one chosen out of the presbyters should be placed over the rest, and to whom all care of the Church should belong, that the seeds of schisms might be plucked up. Whosoever thinks that there is no proof from Scripture, but that this is my opinion, that a presbyter and bishop are the same, and that one is a title of age, the other of office, let him read the words of the apostle to the Philippians, saying, ‘Paul and Timotheus, servants of Christ to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons.’

Latin text:

Idem est ergo presbyter qui et episcopus, et antequam diaboli instinctu, studia in religione fierent, et diceretur in populis: Ego sum Pauli, ego Apollo, ego autem Cephae, communi presbyterorum consilio, Ecclesiae gubernabantur. Postquam vero unusquisque eos quos baptizaverat suos putabat esse, non Christi, in toto orbe decretum est, ut unus de presbyteris electus superponeretur caeteris, ad quem omnis Ecclesiae cura pertineret, et schismatum semina tollerentur. Putet aliquis non Scripturarum, sed nostram esse sententiam, episcopum et presbyterum unum esse, et aliud aetatis, aliud esse nomen officii: relegat Apostoli ad Philippenses verba dicentis: Paulus et Timothaeus servi Jesu Christi, omnibus sanctis in Christo Jesu, qui sunt Philippis, cum episcopis et diaconis, gratia vobis et pax, et reliqua.

Citation: Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, PL 26:562-563. English translation from John Harrison, Whose Are the Fathers? (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1867), p.488. See also Karl Von Hase, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, trans. A. W. Streane, Vol. 1, 2nd ed. rev. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), p. 164.

Jerome (347-420):

Therefore, as we have shown, among the ancients presbyters were the same as bishops; but by degrees, that the plants of dissension might be rooted up, all responsibility was transferred to one person. Therefore, as the presbyters know that it is by the custom of the Church that they are to be subject to him who is placed over them so let the bishops know that they are above presbyters rather by custom than by Divine appointment, and ought to rule the Church in common, following the example of Moses, who, when he alone had power to preside over the people Israel, chose seventy, with the assistance of whom he might judge the people. We see therefore what kind of presbyter or bishop should be ordained.

Latin text:

Haec propterea, ut ostenderemus apud veteres eosdem fuisse presbyteros quos et episcopos: paulatim vero ut dissensionum plantaria evellerentur, ad unum omnem sollicitudinem esse delatam. Sicut ergo presbyteri sciunt se ex Ecclesiae consuetudine ei qui sibi praepositus fuerit, esse subjectos: ita episcopi noverint se magis consuetudine, quam dispositionis Dominicae veritate, presbyteris esse majores, et in commune debere Ecclesiam regere, imitantes Moysen, qui cum haberet in potestate solum praeesse populo Israel, septuaginta elegit, cum quibus populum judicaret. Videamus igitur qualis presbyter, sive episcopus ordinandus sit.

Citation: Commentariorum In Epistolam Ad Titum, PL 26:563. Translation from John Harrison, Whose Are the Fathers? (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1867), p.488. See also Karl Von Hase, Handbook to the Controversy with Rome, trans. A. W. Streane, Vol. 1, 2nd ed. rev. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1909), p. 164.

Thus, this whole business of the Roman primacy and/or the papacy is something unknown to Holy Scripture, but has been obtruded upon the Church of Jesus Christ by the communion of Rome.


Mr. Marshall continues:

Irenaeus (ca 180) also wrote: “For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church (i.e. the Church of Rome), on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolical tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere.” Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 3:3:2

David King Responds: How are we to understand the words of Irenaeus here? I’m content to defer to the explanation offered by J. N. D. Kelly. He states, while commenting on this passage from Irenaeus that

This interpretation [i.e., the one implied by Mr. Marshall], or some variant of it, has been accepted by many, but it is awkward to refer in qua to hanc … ecclesiam, and anachronistic to attribute such thinking to Irenaeus. Hence it seems more plausible to take in qua with omnem … ecclesiam, and to understand Irenaeus as suggesting that the Roman church supplies an ideal illustration because, ‘in view of its preeminent authority’ based on its foundation by both Peter and Paul, its antiquity and so on, every church—or perhaps the whole church—in which the apostolic tradition has been preserved must as a matter of course agree with it. There is therefore no allusion to the later Petrine claims of the Roman see.

See J. N. D. Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines (San Francisco: Harper, 1960), p. 193.

But, even if we did permit the meaning you suggest implicitly, Irenaeus does not speak for the church universal with respect to the primacy of Rome or its pope. And to be sure, the eastern churches never recognized, let alone acknowledged, Roman and/or papal primacy.

Victor I

Mr. Marshall insists: Also, Pope Victor 1 (pope from AD 189–199) presumed to excommunicate all the churches of Asia Minor and most people of that day (including those in Asia Minor) were worried about it. This confirms that most Christians did believe that the bishop of Rome DID in fact have such juridical power.

David King Responds: Confirms it? It’s very difficult to believe that you would actually offer Pope Victor 1, the bishop of Rome, and this particular instance, as representative of the views of the church universal at this time. First of all, the vaunted prejudice of any bishop of Rome ought not to be accepted as an example for proof of the contemporary belief of the universal church. The fact that he decided to jump into a dogfight with the Christians of Asia Minor over the date of Easter proves nothing. And yes, the fact that he presumed to tell the churches in Asia Minor what to do didn’t mean squat to them. In fact, their refusal to acquiesce to his pompous demands is proof in the pudding that they didn’t recognize any such notion of Roman primacy. Eusebius informs us that

Victor, who presided over the church at Rome [notice the church at Rome, not the world], immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate. But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor.

See The Church History of Eusebius, 5.24.9-10.

You mean to tell me that Victor’s attempt to censure all of Christendom in Asia Minor under the threat of excommunication, when all of them opposed his jurisdiction, that this proves that the universal church of that day understood and embraced Roman and/or papal primacy? Please tell me that you’re really joking here, and that you really aren’t serious? Even Irenaeus, whom you referenced above, was busy in this particular controversy exhorting Victor to make peace with the churches of Asia Minor. Eusebius informs us that

Among them was Irenaeus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord’s day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom … .

See The Church History of Eusebius, 5.24.11.

If Irenaeus really supported the Roman bishop’s juridical primacy and authority over the universal church, then pray tell me why he was instructing Victor to back off! The whole notion that Victor’s attempt to pontificate to the churches of Asia Minor proves papal primacy, is about the most ludicrous example one could possibly imagine, and which blows up in one’s face historically.

Mr. Marshall wrote: All written sources indicate that the Church of Rome was held as first and supreme.

David King Responds: No, not all. There’s a book in the Bible which we Protestants know as the Acts of the Apostles, and it informs us that the first church in which all the apostles gathered was in Jerusalem, that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Act 11:26), and that this church, under the leadership of James, the Apostles, and Presbyters, were the first to send out “decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem” (Acts 16:4). Now, I understand that you dear Romanists don’t sweat that Bible stuff, but we Protestants do. :)

[FN1] One is reminded of the recent accusations against Fr. Raymond Brown, S.S. (link).

[FN2] Mr. Marshall designates him as “pope,” although this is incorrect, as Pastor King notes later in the post.

[FN3] As Pastor King has explained elsewhere (link) his use of the term Romanist is not intended to be derogatory, but merely descriptive – although we are aware that some Roman Catholics object to this designation.

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