What Did The Early Church Really Believe?
"Always be ready to give a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. However, do this with gentleness and respect." - 1 Peter 3:15-16
As believers, we are called to defend our faith. I'm Catholic because I believe Catholicism to be the most authentic and truest form of Christianity, not only biblically but historically. Though some argue that Catholicism was founded by the Roman Emperor, Constantine the Great and that, as a result, the Church implemented pagan rituals - this is a myth.
If this were true, it would mean that only after the Edict of Milan (313 AD) would we see evidence of the Catholic Church and Catholic doctrine. However, historically this is not the case at all, as hundreds of surviving records indicate to us that the Catholic Church and her beliefs were already firmly established by the apostles, centuries before religious toleration was proclaimed in the Roman Empire. The Edict Of Milan only legalised Christianity, it certainly did not make Christianity the religion of the Empire. To prove that the Early Church (pre-Constantine) was Catholic in practice and belief, I will only reference sources written by influential Christians, before the birth of Constantine - 272 AD.
Even though the writings of those in the Early Church are not infallible, the fact that many of their testimonies hold similar views, makes them historically credible. Since the Early Christians agreed on many doctrinal issues, it is clear that these teachings did not originate from them but were passed on by the apostles and transmitted through them, by Apostolic Tradition.
“So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.” — 2 Thessalonians 2:15
Remember, the New Testament was written between 50 - 100 AD and only gives us a glimpse of what the Early Church looked like. The writings of the early Christians from the 1st Century onwards provide us with more wisdom and insight into what the Church actually believed. Let’s get into it...
Peter's Primacy + The Papacy:
Catholics believe that the apostle Peter was the first Pope. The first excerpt refers to his successors. If you want to understand the biblical roots of the Papacy, read my previous blog: Where Is The Pope In The Bible?
Bishops, Priests + Deacons:
The Catholic Church:
The Eucharist - Real Presence Communion:
The Protestant Reformation was marked with the idea that Communion was simply a symbol in remembrance of Jesus’ Sacrifice on the Cross. Yet, Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that Communion is sacred, as it becomes the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. If you want to understand this better, read my blog: Did Jesus Really Mean We Should Eat His Flesh?
Confirmation is a Sacrament in the Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican Church that originates from the Apostles laying their hands on a baptised member of the Church to anoint them with the Holy Spirit, so that they would receive the gifts of the Spirit and bear fruit. Note: this can only be carried out by a validly ordained Bishop, which is why Philip as a Deacon could not minister the Sacrament.(Acts 8).
If you want to understand this Sacrament in more depth, read my article: The Biblical Roots Of Confessing Your Sins To A Priest.
Mary, Mother Of God:
If Jesus is God, then it makes sense that Mary would be the Mother of God. Although, some have asserted that Mary did not carry God in the womb, but only Christ’s human nature, this is philosophically incorrect. Mothers do not carry “natures” in their womb, they carry “persons” and since the person in Mary’s womb was divine, Mary can legitimately be referred to as the Mother of God. Even Martin Luther and John Calvin, the two most influential reformers, insisted that Mary was the Mother of God.
Intercession Of The Saints:
Praying to saints is NOT worship. The Old English word to ‘pray’ simply means to ask or request, therefore in the same way we might ask others to intercede and pray for us, we ask the saints in Heaven to pray for us. The Bible says that the prayers of the righteous are powerful and effective, how much more righteous then are the saints in Heaven, making their prayers even more powerful and effective.
The Catholic Church has always advocated that human life begins at conception and will always be Pro-Life in all circumstances.
Contraception + Sterilisation:
The Catholic Church has never endorsed birth control, contraception or sterilisation. The purpose of sex was for procreation and pleasure, so when you place barriers and take one out of the equation, you distort what sex was created for. The Church has taught that every sexual act should be open to life. This means that the 'seed' should never be wasted. If you want to understand more about the Church's teaching, read my blog: Let's Talk About Contraception.
Since nothing unclean will enter the Kingdom of God, Purgatory is a temporal place where one is purged from their sin before entering the Kingdom. It is not a second chance of salvation. At death, a person’s eternity is sealed, as either heaven or hell. Purgatory is just a place to prepare and purify us for heaven. Praying for the souls in Purgatory was an Early Church practice.
If you ask me, this Church looks very Catholic. Although this is only a small sample of excerpts written in the Early Church, I hope that it gives you an overview of the structure and doctrines of the Church founded by the Apostles. If you want to access thousands of more Early Church Writings, check out websites such as New Advent or The Church Fathers :)