Church “fathers” on issues

Updated 1-1-12

Preface: The following provides links to an ongoing compilation of material from Jason Engwer (who is not me, though I sometimes supplement his work at the end of pages, in addition to the preface), and is offered here for non-commercial “fair use.” Any copying of his work should be attributed to him, and used for the glory of God.

Br. Engwer has moved on to blogging and his old web site ( is no longer operative since AOL discontinued such (2011), but Engwer can be reached through his blogger page. He would be the one to reach as regards these statements on the fathers.

Br. Engwer is also sometimes active on blogs as Triablogue. Also see such resources as the Beggars All blog, William Webster's site, the Reformation500 site, James White's Vintage site on Roman Catholicism. Some of Jason's former work can be found on the Internet Archive file here, and at this site (no formal affiliation).

My home page is here. For a custom Google search engine of the above sites and other selected ones, see here. Please note however that offering this work or links cannot mean I may affirm all that is on a site, with all its conclusions, but that they usually are some of the best evangelical sites at least on the subject at hand, and contend for “repentance towards God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ,” (Acts 20:21) by His grace through faith, and to His glory.

Note: Engwer's compilations are from what are wrongly termed early “church fathers,” as in truth the church began and greatly grew before them, and its “fathers” are essentially only those who are found in Scripture, and which is the judge of all. The church fathers which Roman Catholicism and Orthodox churches look to were mostly bishops who wrote during the first eight centuries of the Christian church, though some were laymen, and may include a few women. It is held that we only have relatively little or a fraction of what they collectively wrote (with the most extant writings being from Augustine), and no infallible list of all infallible fathers is given by Rome, but lists can vary between Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox scholars.

The ancients know as “church fathers” were evidently holy and very pious souls, and whose writings provide some edifying materials, but are inferior in quality, agreement and authority to the Divinely inspired Scriptures, and evidence shows they were fallible men yet seeking to understand many things. While they are most often referred to as if they were in unity, they were not in many things. Like today, they held to some core beliefs, while differing on other things, and definitely tended to go toward the far right, with some even believing there was no forgiveness after baptism (contra Acts 8:13,22; 1Jn. 1:8,9) or that sexual relations in marriage necessary involved moral uncleanness, contrary to Scripture. (Heb. 13:17) See further comments on “church fathers” are below..

Table of Contents. To return here, click on TOC

Ancients on Papacy


Ancients on Scripture


Ancients on Images


Ancients on Baptism


Ancient on Mary


Ancients on the Eucharist


Ancients on Purgatory


Ancients on Salvation






Supplementary — comments on “church fathers

Comments on “church fathers:

While we are to esteem men insomuch as they conform to Scripture, the Scriptures warn against against placing trust in men, (Ps. 118:8,9) and that we are not to “think of men above that which is written,” (1Cor. 4:6) which tendency Roman Catholicism in particular much examples (though elements of Protestantism also do), and only Scripture has been established as assuredly inspired of God, by which we “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1Thess. 5:21) And yet esteem men for their faith and labor as warranted. (1Thes. 5:13;Heb. 13:7)

Without taking away from the virtues of these church ancients or being directed specifically at them, the words of Melito [A.D. 160-170-177] (who provided the earliest known Christian Old Testament canon, identical to the Protestant canon except for the omission of Esther) against blindly following predecessors consistent with Scripture and are fitting here: “Again, there are persons who say: Whatsoever our fathers have bequeathed to us, that we reverence...Nay, it is not well for a man to follow his predecessors, if they be those whose course was evil; but rather that we should turn from that path of theirs...” (

Scripture, which became established essentially due to it Divine qualities and effects and other aspects of supernatural attestation, and progressive conflation with itself, is abundantly evidenced to have became the standard for obedience and for testing truth claims.

Vatican 1 prohibits anyone from interpreting the Bible contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers, which is more of a theory than a reality although no infallible list of all the fathers exists (nor of all “infallible” teachings), and the most complete written compilation of the Fathers (Oxford/Edinburgh "Ante-Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers," compiled by Anglicans) fills 38 volumes, and it is held that this work contains only a small selection of writings of the Church Fathers. The perspicuity of their writings is also a challenge, and I do not find any of the samples I have read by them to be more understandable than the Scriptures, and or as edifying, and they also can lead to differing doctrinal stands.

Thus the various writings and opinions of these individuals are not determinative of truth, but are to be examined for consistency with Scripture as the supreme authority, and in apologetics, with Roman Catholic doctrine, as well as with themselves and each other. While Catholics often will invoke the “fathers” as if they had great weight and unanimously support Rome, yet not only were church fathers sometimes at variance with Scripture and evangelical Protestant faith in certain teachings, but it is also apparent that church fathers can often be seen to be at variance with the modern church of Rome, and lacking the required ( unanimous consent which Roman Catholicism claims for its doctrines, thus she defines non-unanimous consent as “unanimous” according to the theory of the development of doctrine. They are also charged with not always being consistent with themselves,

Moreover, while Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox (EO) both largely base their claim to supremacy on church Tradition, they disagree on who all the fathers were and on aspects of what Tradition teaches, resulting in different “traditions.” These include things such as how many immersions in baptism, the use of images, instrumental music and more, with each one picking which ones it will keep. EO apologist Clark Carlton writes, The Orthodox Church opposes the Roman doctrines of universal papal jurisdiction, papal infallibility, purgatory, and the Immaculate Conception precisely because they are untraditional.” (THE WAY: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church, Clark Carlton, 1997, p 135)

Therefore it can be seen that holding to church Tradition does not solve the problem of divisive differences, and holding to a supreme autocratic power over the church (the pope) to define Truth is a prime cause of division between Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox, among others. However, truth, being exclusive by nature, is divisive, and the goal of the Godly is not simply unity, but Scriptural unity which relies upon persuading honest souls by “the manifestation of the truth,” (1Cor. 4:2), and which must be based on that which has been established as being perpetually infallible, the Scriptures.

Roman Catholicism effectively holds that this supreme authority is their perpetual, assuredly infallible magisterium (supreme because the magisterium claims to infallibly define both the extent and meaning of Scripture, and requires assent of faith to its decrees), which has infallibly defined itself to be infallible whenever it speaks according to its infallibly defined (scope and subject-based) formula, ( which autocratic circularity renders their own decree that she is infallible to be infallible, and precludes any possibility of error no matter what evidence is presented. That is, according to their interpretation only their interpretation can be correct in any conflict.

And while Scriptural warrant can be claimed for this, assurance of infallibility does not depend upon that, but upon the premise the Rome is infallible when speaking according to her formula, and in which the charism of infallibility does not necessarily render the arguments and reasoning behind the decree to be infallible.

Under this presumption Rome decrees her oral church Tradition (things passed on) to be equal with Scripture, reasoning that since much of Scripture came out of Tradition, therefore it is also infallible. However, both weeds (or “tares”) and wheat come out of the same ground, yet they are not equal, and not all that was passed on is inspired, even from those whom God used to write Scripture. As this is true, what Rome essentially does is presume to be as one of the inspired writers (even though she denies her assured infallibility is the same as the inspired writers) in infallibly providing revelation, but rather than being moved by the Holy Spirit to pen Scripture, (2Pt. 1:20,21) she claims His guidance in what basically is the “channeling” of certain traditions into dogma or church law, and which effectively adds to the canon such things as purgatory, prayer to departed saints, mandatory clerical celibacy, etc. But as these are mainly based on oral Tradition, as is her claim to assuredly infallibility, supporting these from Scripture requires extrapolating out of texts or reading into them meanings which are not there, while being contrary to what is most clearly contextually taught.

However, Scripture is the part of tradition that has been established as wholly God-breathed, and is the only transcendent material source of Divine revelation on faith and morals on earth that Scripture affirms to be so. (2Tim. 3:16). And which was not established as such due to the decree of an perpetually infallible ecclesiastical office on earth, Christ being the only one who was, but like true men of God, the Divine writings which make up Scripture were essentially progressively established as being of God due to their Divine qualities and effects and doctrinal conformity and complementarity to what had been prior established as being from God, and by the manner of effectual attestation it reveals that God gave to them, especially to new Scriptural teachings and those who preached them. (Josh. 3:7 (cf. Is. 63:12); 2Ki. 18:6,7; Mk. 16:20; Jn. 5:36; 14:11,12; Acts 4:33; 15:7-18; Rm. 15:19; Gal. 4:6; 1Thes. 1:3-10, Heb. 2:3,4, Rv. 12:11, etc.) That is, God manifestly affirmed the faith or men like Abraham and Moses, and the latter expanded upon it and wrote the Words of God, which became the standard for obedience and testing truth claims. This affirmation of truth continues today, principally by the preaching of the gospel which effects conviction “of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment,” (Jn. 16:9) and manifest regeneration and its fruits, as the church that supports the truth is that of the living God. (1Tim. 3:15)

The authenticity of both true believers and the Scriptures should be confirmed by other manifest men of God, especially in formal offices, but they are so regardless of this confirmation.

In addition, the polemical premise that Rome is the assuredly infallible interpreter of Scripture, based upon her claim to have given us the Bible, is specious, as truth was preserved and most of the writings of Scripture were established as being Divine before the Roman Catholic church existed,(Lk. 24:44) without an assuredly infallible magisterium (though we affirm the importance of the magisterium), and the logic behind the premise of the Catholic argument would requires us to submit to the Jews, as they are affirmed to have been the instruments and stewards of Divine revelation. (Rm. 3:2; 9:4) But which did not confer on them an assured perpetual infallible magisterium, nor was this necessary, as God knows how to raise up men from without the formal magisterial office to correct them by Scripture, which the Lord did when those who sat in the seat of Moses (Mt 23:2) presumed to teach as doctrine the unscriptural “tradition of the elders.” (Mk. 7:3-16) Moreover, it took Rome over 1400 years after the last book was penned for Rome to infallibly define her imperfect canon, and thus dissent among Roman Catholic scholars existed right into Trent itself, while the Eastern Orthodox can be said to have first defined the New Testament canon.

And as all Scripture is God-breathed, (2Tim. 3:16) it is assuredly infallible, and by which all other truth claims and all teaching and preaching on faith and morals by the church must be judged by. And in particular, being God-breathed, infallible, tangible, transcendent and testable, and the extent of it being settled, by its nature Scripture stands supreme over the non-codified nebulous essence called oral Tradition, which is supremely susceptible to undetected corruption.

And in contrast to Scripture, we are not promised therein that the teaching office of the church will perpetually always be right whenever it speaks to the whole church on faith or morals, which Rome claims for herself.

Therefore, rather than holding that that church is the supreme infallible authority (sola ecclesia, or SE), the historical Protestant position has been that of Sola Scriptura (SS), which basically means that Scripture alone is the supreme infallible authority on earth, the sure “rule” “norm” or authority on faith and morals, and formally (providing basic truths) and materially (affirming such things as the church and means of discernment and teaching) sufficient. Yet in contrast to how Roman Catholic apologists (RCAs) often describe SS, “sola” does not mean that only the Bible can be used in understanding and teaching truth, nor that explicit texts are required, but that Scripture is what supremely is determinative of truth under God.

While Catholics often assert that holding to SS means that the interpreters see themselves as infallible, or that they cannot be sure of beliefs, yet appealing to Scripture as infallible is not the same as holding to assured formulaic infallibility, while Protestants can claim to be at least as sure of certain teachings of Scripture as Roman Catholics can claim to be of certain teachings of their church, and Rome does not claim that proclaiming her decrees as infallible means that they will be rightly understood.

Likewise, based upon the manner in which Scripture was established, Protestants may claim that their established canon contains all the books of infallible Scripture, but Catholics cannot claim a like canon for their supreme authority, as there is no infallible canon of all infallible decrees, thus while a few are established as infallible, yet they may not be sure that every decree they believe to be infallible really is infallible — which they have a right to know before they yield the assent of faith which Rome requires of them.

Finally, lay Catholics not only interpret which teachings are infallible, and what they mean, as well as the meaning of teachings from the non-infallible magisterium (from whence the bulk of Roman Catholic teaching comes from, and in which some dissent is allowed), but they also have much liberty to interpret the Bible in order to support Rome, as long as they do not contradict her, according to their understanding of what she teaches. And which has resulted in varying attempts to wrest support for teachings which were not soundly derived from Scripture in the first place, but were a product of her selective use of her amorphous Tradition.

But again, what the Catholic premise misses is that of how truth was Scripturally established, which was not through a perpetual assuredly infallible magisterium as per Rome, but as said, by the power of God attesting to men of God and what they wrote, and that becoming the standard for obedience and future truth claims. To God be the glory, though we (i) come short of all that He would do (Dan. 11:32) if we more fully and firmly walked in old gospel paths of Scripture. TOC