Sunday, October 7, 2012

7 Quick Takes #4- Church History edition

These are two days late and posted in a hurry. .

1. I am taking a Church History course at the Seminary that I work at, and I am finding it really interesting to learn about the early Church. Here are some highlights. The downside is that the seminary is Protestant, and even in studying the early Church, there is a very apparent Protestant viewpoint. Blessed John Henry Newman said, "To be deep in history is to cease to be Protestant." I hope that throughout the course the students may come to understand the Catholic Church a little bit better than they do.

Here are some interesting highlights of things I've read in the course so far:

2. St. Ignatius of Antioch: If I only hear "St. Ignatius," I automatically think of the one from Loyola. Maybe having gone to a Jesuit college has something to do with this. Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch during the reign of the emperor Trajan (98-117). Similar to the apostle Paul, he wrote letters to various Churches. He wrote seven of them (at least, seven survive) and they are how we know most of what we know about him.
My favorite line from Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans: "The greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the world, not in its being convincing to it." Great line. Fulton Sheen agreed

3. Correspondence of Pliny and Trajan: Pliny was a governor who was writing the emperor Trajan about how he should deal with Christians. What he had been doing was when Christians were reported to him, he asked them three times whether they were Christian, threatening punishment. If they did not give up Christianity, he had them executed for their "obstinacy." Trajan writes back to him saying that he has been doing the right things. A few interesting things Trajan points out is that it was not their intent to seek out Christians. They only accused and punished Christians who were reported to them by others.  Additionally, Trajan was willing for former Christians to be pardoned if they worshipped the Roman Gods.

4. St. Irenaeus of Lyons: Irenaeus lived toward the end of the 2nd century (d. ca. 200). He wrote an awesome treatise called Against Heresies. The main heresy he was refuting was Gnosticism, which was based on supposed "secret" knowledge from Jesus. He makes some very good points refuting it, and asserting the authority of the Church and the succession of Bishops. One pretty interesting thing is how he defers to the Bishop of Rome as having primacy, and to the Church of Rome as a doctrinal standard. (This was before the Bishop of Rome was officially given primacy as Pope.)

One of my favorite lines (ok, these are the harsher ones): "All who destroy the form of the Gospel are vain, unlearned, and also audacious... Wretched men indeed! Who wish to be pseudo-prophets..."
One more neat thing about Irenaeus: He is cited a few times in Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation. That's' how important he is.

5. The Second Treatise of the Great Seth: This is a Gnostic text that shows how crazy Gnosticism was, and why Irenaeus was writing to refute it. The speaker claims to be Jesus Christ, but says all kinds of outlandish things. These particular Gnostics were clearly docetists, since the text tries to assert that Jesus only appeared to suffer as a human being. In numerous places, the speaker mocks the Old Testament God, as well as many of the OT prophets.

Interestingly, there are also a few spots where this text doesn't seem too far off, but the writer just has the general context of God and Jesus muddled. For instance, a marriage/wedding analogy comes up twice in this text. We're familiar with those! There is also a reference to after the Crucifixion that is almost right out of the Gospel narratives: "The veil of his temple he tore with his hands. It was a trembling which seized the chaos of the earth, for the souls which were in the sleep below were released."

6. Hippolytus of Rome: Hippolytus (d. ca. 236) was a presbyter who became for a time a schismatic Bishop of Rome (in opposition to Callistus, the real one). Before the end of his life, he did come back to the Church and was reconciled. He wrote the treatise, Apostolic Tradition, in which he describes early Baptismal liturgies. It is pretty similar to the current practice in some ways, which makes it interesting to read. And guess what is used in the liturgy? "The Lord be with you... and with your Spirit." Yes.

7. The Martyrdom of Sts. Perpetua and Felicity. This was pretty amazing. Perpetua was a young noblewoman who wrote part of her account herself. This is the first first-person account we have of a Christian woman. So, she was upper-class, and Felicity was her slave. They were both mothers. Perpetua had a baby boy, who she gave away to relatives. Felicity was pregnant when they were arrested, and after praying about it, she gave birth a month early so that she would be able to be martyred along with her fellow Christians. Perpetua was given a number of visions while in prison, one assuring her of her arrival in heaven after her martyrdom, and another showing her deceased brother having gone to heaven, out of purgatory after her intercession. (Yay, intercessory prayer!) Perpetua's story can be found here.  I highly recommend reading it!

Oops! I forgot to link to


  1. A friend of mine wrote an audio play called Perpetua's Choice, which I think may have aired at some point on EWTN. I always loved that story as a kid - some of the few female saints we learned about who weren't religious sisters!
    So glad to hear not only that you are learning, but that you're enjoying!

  2. That quote from St. Ignatius is fantastic. And the perfect reminder after watching the VP debate in agony last night. And I am very excited to check out the story of St. Perpetua. I thought I knew it, but apparently not! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yes, Perpetua's story is pretty amazing!