Catholicism: the Reason for My Hope Part IV

Church Fathers, a miniature from Svyatoslav's ...

Church Fathers

The History and Teachings of the Early Church Fathers

Nothing speaks to us better than getting to know the history of any enterprise that we undertake: we usually learn all we can about the company we work for so that we can relate to others how it came to be and what the philosophy was of the entrepreneurial beginnings of the company. Part of that history is learning about the founder and the early leaders of the company and their vision of the company and their successful leadership as well as their single mindedness in reaching the goal of the founder. At least that is something we salesmen study when we go to work for a new company with a long history. It lends credibility to the company that we are representing and unites us in some small way to a participation in the company’s goals.

It is no different in the new Catholic, who represents the Church in the world to all who meet and talk with them. Why then, do so few Christians spend almost no time at all looking at our history and the Early Church Fathers who forged the beginnings of the largest institution on the face of the planet: 1.2 billion members yoked to the teachings of the Church?

It is this history, which the Bible initiates as our first introduction or orientation to the Catholic Faith. Her structure and our adherence to doctrine were discussed somewhat in the last post; Part III. But for further information which is to our great benefit to read, we have the accounts of the earliest Christians and the beliefs that they held from the beginning. Even a cursory reading of these great men and pioneers of our Faith, add their mark of approval on most of our beliefs and practices still in place over almost 2 millennia.

The belief in the real presence of Christ residing, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist, our heightened honor that is afforded our Blessed Virgin Mary, our honoring of the saints and martyrs, our belief in the Pope as being the sovereign leader of the Church, the idea that a priest can forgive us our sins if we are contrite and sorry for them and willing to amend our ways, the need for Baptism and the efficacy of the other sacraments of the Church, the love and adherence that we give to the books of the Bible, the gravity of abortion and sins of the flesh, and the knowledge that we are bound to an authority that is beyond our mortal world but embodied in the ministry that was founded by Christ Himself. All of these things and more can be verified by the writings which came from the earliest Christians: these we call the Early Church Fathers.

The latest historical find which dates back as far as the oldest entries in the New Testament is called the Didache or Teaching of the Twelve. I would recommend that every Christian read the document and understand that it was a small handbook that was widely carried throughout the Christian world a mere 30 to 50 years after the death of our Lord and Savior.

Much, therefore, that I heard from non-Catholic sources, who mocked and ridiculed Catholic beliefs and practices were, besides being condescending, proved wrong: to be sure, the faith of our fathers is being faithfully carried forward into our modern age by the Catholic Church.

Since this is just a short post, for those who want to get into the meat of the proofs concerning the Catholic Tradition, one should at the very least read the Didache and the writings of the Early Church Fathers for illuminating insight into what our earliest Christians believed.

You will quickly come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church stands with these founding fathers and does not make up new and novel doctrines to force on their members. Without this tie to Christ, the apostles and the earliest known Christians, how could anyone have faith that their way of understanding, living or teaching a particular brand of Christianity is truly authentic? History provides us with that reassurance and gives me the Reason for My Hope within the Catholic construct of the Christian faith.

Can we Preserve the Faith of our Fathers in this Modern World?

We all know the Catholic hymn, Faith of our Fathers written by Frederick William Faber back in 1849. It has been standard fare in the Catholic Church since that time and (with modified stanzas) in some Protestant churches as well. It was written in memory of the faith of the Catholic martyrs from the time of Henry VIII in England and we could easily think of these fathers as all of those who stretch back to the Early Fathers of the Church and even to the Apostles and their followers. The 3rd stanza below is the original though many of us know the new one, especially if we grew up in a Protestant Church. Here are the stanzas minus the refrain for those who are not familiar with it:

Faith of our fathers, living still,
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword;
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear thy wondrous voice!

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
We all shall then be truly free.

Faith of our fathers, Mary’s prayers
Shall win our country back to Thee;
And through the truth that comes from God,
England shall then indeed be free.

 Sadly, Faber’s hymn was not enough to save England from her continual slide from the faith: probably due to a lack of prayer or by dismissing the intercession of our Holy Mother.

I am starting to think that we also need to start asking Mary to intercede for us as well. We are in a precarious situation and in sore need of saintly men and women to emerge from our midst. We need people who will rally the Church and Her flock back to our sacred traditions and that deep commitment to faith that was passed on flawlessly these past 2 millennia. What we have lost in just the past 50 years is indescribable: it is a Church that at times reminds us of the pictures of Hiroshima shortly after the war. Just look at the gains that the Father of All Lies and the Mystery of Evil has wrought!

God is banned and mocked in society. We cannot express or even study our faith in public schools. Our media professes an atheistic bias, as do our colleges and universities. Our parishioners are among the poorest formed Catholics in the history of the Church. Few know the teachings and even fewer have any idea that they made a commitment at Confirmation to hold to all that the Church teaches.

How can you blame those who came into the Church without proper education and training? You can’t. It wasn’t their fault.

Novel ideas and a laxness in faith and all the particulars of faith was promulgated by those who wanted to “free” us from the old stodgy ways that had served good Catholics and many a saint for countless hundreds of years. So we have those who are effectively Protestant Catholics on the most part, teaching our children in religion classes and also by their acts and deeds. They do not genuflect before the Blessed Sacrament; they laugh, clap and give “non-sacred” talks in the Church without first removing Christ from the tabernacle. Most churches have unveiled the tabernacle as if it is no longer the Holy of holies wherein resides our Lord and Savior. Many a priest (perhaps by instruction of his bishop) has decided to face us instead of the Orient (to the east) where Christ is to return, or to the tabernacle in which He now resides. They allow the laity to touch the sacred linens and the consecrated vessels, not to mention the Holy Species. Holy music has all but disappeared in preference for feel good songs about God which are in large part; how I love Him and how He saved me and now I am saved etc. They are typically songs about me, me and me; and now I’m saved. Sound familiar: sure, it sounds like the Protestant churches I left to become Catholic. It’s the same type of music. Where are the sacred hymns of the past about Christ’s suffering and gift of Self for our redemption? Contemplative music praising our Lord or Mary or the Saints? They have almost vanished and when they appear, usually it is among many other tunes that have annihilated the meaning of the Mass itself. The Gregorian Chant is almost extinct.

But I could go on about symbols and art and architecture all day long. I could write tomes about the ineffectiveness of our Novus Ordo Mass to convey the proper reverence and respect to our Lord and to the Holiness of the moment. And all of it is true. In far too many parishes our faith is desolate. There is no other word for it. It’s become a “nice” church; “welcoming” and loads of fun for all: but to make gains in friendliness, fellowship and busyness, we have thrown away the orderliness, the reverence and the holiness that we once prized and cherished.

The problem first and foremost is what we are being taught: by the world, the present American society and sadly, by far too many theologians, scripture scholars, parish priests, DRE’s and lay catechists. My next post will explore how our children are now falling away in droves or perpetuating the lukewarm faith of their poorly catechized parents: in short, poor Catholics. Something needs to be done: and we must ask, who is it that should be fixing it? Can we ever get ourselves back to the Faith of our Fathers if we continue on our present course? To be continued . . .