XI —The Ancient Rule of Faith and Schism:

The unified church is incapable of erring in its doctrinal judgments according to Apostolic Christians. Protestants for the most part dispute this of course. However, this rejection is in part because of a difference in how Catholics and Protestants differ on this fundamentally (and of course there are differences in how the aforementioned groups recognize this principle also). To the Protestant there is a constant dichotomous mentality at work that is the crux of their misunderstandings of the Apostolic Churches' and of Christianity as a whole. This mindset is Hellenistic in origin and seeks to polarize certain positions to create conflict where conflict does not necessarily exist. This is a holdover from the fact that it is common for groups dissenting from teachings of the Church historically to use this kind of rationale. (It is prevalent to every pre-reformation group this author can think of which Catholics, Eastern Church Christians, and Protestants recognize as heretical.) To go over this in detail would require another essay but in brief, this tendency manifests itself in the case of our Protestant brethren constantly resorting to the dichotomy of "either/or".

As noted earlier, along with the covenant concept the incarnation concept of God working through His creation is one, which Protestants of all stripes somewhat have a problem with. When it comes to authority, the final authority in the Protestant paradigm is either the Bible or the Church. Of course in this dichotomy, the former is chosen over the latter. In contrast to this narrow viewpoint, Catholics and the Orthodox affirm that it is both the Bible and the Church, which are instruments through which God speaks to His people. This dichotomy is prevalent throughout Protestant methodology (either Scripture or Tradition as the source of Divine Revelation, either faith or works, and this could be multiplied out over every area of conflict that Protestants have with Apostolic Christians). Catholic theology in particular tends to affirm a "both/and" understanding to many of these areas of controversy and that goes for outlining exactly what comprises "the Church" also. To Protestants, the Church is either visible or invisible whereas Catholics affirm that the Church has both a visible structure and an invisible element to it. The Catholic views the Church as necessarily having a visible constituent, which is covenantal - and this serves to properly ascertain individuals as being a member of the fold.

The word ecclesia (used in Matt. 16:18 and Matt 18:17 and translated as "church": the only two spots of the Gospels where Our Lord speaks of His Church at all) seems to postulate two points. First, that "the body it denotes should be separated (or that there should be at least the human possibility of some people being outside it). Second, that it is called, that is, defined from without, not self- appointed or self-determined like a club or a republic" (Msr. Knox: Essentials of Spiritual Unity). The Protestant tends to project a view of the Church that is alien from that of Church history preceding the sixteenth century. Ironically, nowhere does the Scripture provide clear evidence for it - which in light of the claims of Sola Scriptura is methodologically inconsistent. A lot of the reason for this confusion is the misunderstanding by most (but not all) Protestants of the ancient rule of faith. As the Abbot B.C. Butler noted in his response to the so-called "unanswered", claims of Anglican divine Dr. George Salmon:

If Bible reading was little practiced in the Middle Ages, it must be remembered that — printing not being invented yet and books therefore being scarce — the population was of necessity largely illiterate, and that the Bible stories and figures were brought home to popular imagination by stained glass, wall paintings, statues, crucifixes, and miracle plays.
Protestantism, in revolt against the contemporary Church appealed the the Bible and developed what we may call a cult of the Bible; hence the sixteenth century Catholic suspicions of ‘Bible Christianity’. Morover, Protestantism in the past — having neither Rosary, nor Stations of the Cross, nor pictures nor statues, nor all that wealth of spiritual reading and books of devotion which, for a Catholic, surrounds, expounds, and (as in the ‘Imitation of Christ’) largely reproduces the Bible — has naturally tended to nourish devotion more exclusively on the Bible taken in and by itself, then has Catholicism. But it is not true that individual Protestants, as a rule, derive their Christian belief solely from their own study of the Bible. Like Catholics, they in fact accept their beliefs from the tradition and environment in which they have grown up, and they read the Bible in light of that tradition. What simple, unscholarly Christian in fact derives his belief in the trinitarian doctrine of the Athanansian Creed from his personal reading of the Bible text? We all depend on "tradition" in these matters. The difference between Catholic and Protestant is that the former believes he has sound reasons for trusting the "tradition" while the Protestant is formed by a "tradition" of which he is largely unaware and which (in the stream of which he receives it) does not claim to be certainly trustworthy.
And does not the story of modern biblical criticism outside the Church show how, when Protestants try to shake themselves free of all post-biblical tradition, they find that the Bible by itself proves to be an insufficient support even for traditional Protestant orthodoxy?
Hence, modern biblical criticism, in its destructive phase, threatened the whole foundations of Protestantism but only a part of the substructure of Catholicism. Protestant scholarship to a large extent felt itself compelled to surrender the postulate of scriptural inerrancy and lost its grip on any firm doctrine of biblical inspiration. The Virgin-birth and the physical resurrection of Christ, his Godhead, the miracles of his mission and those of the apostolic age, the sacraments and the inerrancy of Christ’s teaching, became suspect. Each of these constituents of traditional Christianity (Protestant and Catholic alike) had to be defended separately by the Protestant scholar solely on the basis of the ‘Scriptural evidence’. But the Scripture evidence was never meant to provide the sole grounds of credibility, least of all for each separate element in Christian belief. It broke down under the weight that was unfairly thrown upon it, and it became possible to argue that Christ was merely a prophet of ethical monotheism, or merely an apocalyptic dreamer, or that he was merely a myth. [1] 
As noted earlier, there are different cultural presuppositions inherent to civilization since printing was invented in the fifteenth century compared with cultures preceding that time period. Thus, the issue of context is highly important because someone with no knowledge of ancient cultures, customs, modes of expression, modes of relating information (be they allegorical, apocalyptic, literal, etc.) is in a bind when it comes to accuracy in interpretation. They cannot hope to properly understand the way the documents were intended to be read and thus misinterpretation is not at all uncommon (2 Pet. 3:14-17). This is the flaw of Sola Scriptura as Butler and Krehbiel noted earlier: the adherent looks to the Bible to do what it was never intended to do. That the Scriptures alone (apart from Apostolic Tradition and the authority of the Church) is a formula that leads to confusion was spoken of by the Fathers of the Church from the earliest of times. They recognized the philosophy (which is what all the early heretics used) was the recipe for schism. Along with an insistence on adhering to Tradition, the Fathers equally stressed the danger of schism, which always is the result of those who refuse to follow legitimate authority.

Here are just a few of countless examples that could be provided to buttress these contentions on this matter from the Fathers of the Church spanning approximately the first three centuries of Christian history:

DIDACHE (c. 80 AD)
You shall not make a schism. Rather, you shall make peace among those who are contending. Just justly and take no regard of the person when correcting transgressions. Do not be of two minds, whether a thing should be or shall not be. [2]
[POPE] ST. CLEMENT (r. 88-97 A.D.)
The church of God which sojourns at Rome to the church of God which sojourns at Corinth, to those who are called and sanctified by the will of God through Our Lord Jesus Christ. Grace and peace from almighty God be multiplied unto you through our Lord Jesus Christ. Owing, dear brethren, to the sudden and successive calamitous events which have happened to ourselves, we feel that we have been somewhat tardy in turning our attention to the points respecting which you consulted us; and especially to that shameful and detestable sedition, utterly abhorrent to the elect of God, which a few rash and self-confident persons have kindled to such a pitch of frenzy, that your venerable and illustrious name, worthy to be universally loved, has suffered grievous injury... [3]
Shameful beloved, extremely shameful, and unworthy of your training in Christ, is the report that on account of one or two persons the well-established and ancient Church of the Corinthians is in revolt against the presbyters. And this report has not come only to us, but even to those professing other faiths then ours, so that by your folly you heap blasphemies on the name of the Lord, and create a danger for yourselves… [4]
Who is able to explain the bond of the love of God? Who is equal to the telling of the greatness of his beauty? The height to which love lifts us is inutterable. Love unites us to God. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love endures all things, is long suffering in everything. There is nothing vulgar in love, nothing haughty. Love makes no schism; love does not quarrel; love does everything in unity. In love were the elect of God perfected; without love nothing is pleasing to God. [5]
You therefore who laid the foundation for this rebellion, submit to the presbyters and be chastened to repentance, bending your knees in a spirit of humility… [6]
You must all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ follows his Father, and the presbytery as you would the Apostles. Reverence the deacons as you would the command of God. Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist may be which is celebrated with the bishop or by one whom he appoints. Wherever the bishop appears let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. [7]
I beseech you therefore, do nothing in a spirit of division [schisma], but act according to Christian teaching. Indeed, I have heard some men say 'If I do not find it in the official records (OT), of the gospel I will not believe’. And when I make answer to them, ‘It is written’, they replied, ‘That is the point at issue’. But to me the official record is Jesus Christ; the inviolable record is His cross, His death and His resurrection, and the faith which He brings about... [8]
Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found any division [schisma] among you, but exceeding purity. For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the church, he shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the Passion [of Christ]. [9]
ST. IRENAEUS OF LYONS (c. 140-202 A.D.)
Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church, those who as I have shown, possess succession from the Apostles; those who, together with the succession of bishops, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth. And the heretics, indeed, who bring strange fire to the altar of God -- namely, strange doctrines -- shall be burned up by the fire from heaven, as were Nadab and Abiud. But such as rise up in opposition to the truth, and exhort others against the Church of God, [shall] remain among those in hell (apud inferos), being swallowed up by an earthquake, even as those who were with Chore [Korah], Dathan, and Abiron. But those who cleave asunder, and separate the unity of the Church, [shall] receive from God the same punishment as Jeroboam did. [10]
Now all these [heretics] are of much later date than the bishops to whom the apostles committed to the Churches; which fact I have in the third book taken all pains to demonstrate. It follows, then, as a matter of course, that these aforementioned, since they are blind to the truth, and deviate from the [right] way, will walk in various roads; and therefore the footsteps of their doctrine are scattered here and there without agreement or connection. The path of those belonging to the Church goes around the whole world; for it has the firm tradition of the Apostles, enabling us to see that the faith of all is one and the same… [11]
Those, therefore, who desert the preaching of the Church, call in question the knowledge of the holy presbyters....It behooves us, therefore, to avoid their doctrines, and take careful heed lest we suffer any injury from them; but to flee to the Church, and be brought up in her bosom, and be nourished with the Lord's Scriptures. [12]
And he says to him again after the resurrection, 'Feed my sheep.' It is on him that he builds the Church, and to him that he entrusts the sheep to feed. And although he assigns a like power to all the Apostles, yet he founded a single Chair, thus establishing by his own authority the source and hallmark of the (Church's) oneness. No doubt the others were all that Peter was, but a primacy is given to Peter, and it is (thus) made clear that there is but one flock which is to be fed by all the Apostles in common accord. If a man does not hold fast to this oneness of Peter, does he imagine that he still holds the Faith? If he deserts the Chair of Peter upon whom the church was built, has he still confidence that he is in the Church? This unity firmly should we hold and maintain, especially we bishops, presiding in the Church, in order that we may approve the episcopate itself to be the one and undivided. [13]
The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother. If any one could escape who was outside the ark of Noah, then he also may escape who shall be outside of the Church...He who does not hold this unity does not hold God's law, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation. [14]
It should be quite obvious just from this small sampling (and this is just the tip of the iceberg) that the Fathers of the Church from the earliest of times took the admonitions against schism from Our Lord (Matt. 12:25-29; Mark 3:23-26; Luke 11:14-20; John 10:1-18, 15:1-6, 17ff), Peter (2 Pet. 2:1-3, 10), James (James 4:1-3, 11-13), John (1 John 3:7-15, 4:1-6; 2 John 1:9-11), Jude (1:5-19), and Paul (1 Cor. 1:10-13; Rom. 16:17, Eph. 4:1-6; Phil.2:1-2) literally and they understood the necessity of unity. Contrary to modern Christian claims otherwise, the Fathers were adamant that unity was necessary and they often spelled out how this unity was to be maintained: through submission to the judgment of the Church.

XII - Infallibility Part I (General Councils):

All Christians believe that Revelation ceased with the death of the last Apostle; therefore, we do not have the same office of Prophet anymore who reveals inspired revelations. However, the perfected covenant has a greater protection then Israel of old. It is a protection referred to by the witch-word of "infallibility". The word "infallibility" is a witch-word because it causes a reaction amongst Protestants that could be accurately styled as "Pavlovian" (much akin to the reaction that Catholics and Orthodox have to the words "Sola Scriptura"). Considering the misunderstandings that most Protestants have in many respects, this reaction on their part is in many ways understandable.

One of the largest stumbling blocks to properly understanding infallibility is the degree of suspicion that exists between Catholics and Protestants on this matter and in virtually every case where Catholics and Protestants differ. This is an area of Catholic-Eastern Church accord over and against the Protestant position (and as the inconsistency of the Protestant position has already been explained in the section on development). However, as it is a component in establishing and maintaining unity, a brief review of the apostolic doctrine of General Councils and their infallibility is necessary at this point. The purpose is to explain this concept as well as to highlight some common ground before delving into the area of disagreements. The following is an excerpt from the Catholic Encyclopedia's article on Ecumenical (General) Councils:

All the arguments which go to prove the infallibility of the Church apply with their fullest force to the infallible authority of General Councils in union with the pope. For conciliary decisions are the ripe fruit of the total life-energy of the teaching church actuated and directed by the Holy Ghost. Such was the mind of the Apostles when, at the Council of Jerusalem (Acts, xv, 28), they put the seal of supreme authority on their decisions in attributing them to the joint action of the Spirit of God and of themselves: Visum est Spiritui sancto et nobis (It hath seemed good to the Holy Ghost and to us). This formula and the dogma it enshrines stand out brightly in the deposit of faith and have been carefully guarded throughout the many storms raised in councils by the play of the human element. From the earliest times they who rejected the decisions of councils were themselves rejected by the Church. Emperor Constantine saw in the decrees of Nicaea "a Divine commandment" and Athanasius wrote to the bishops of Africa: "What God has spoken through the Council of Nicaea endureth for ever." St. Ambrose (Ep. xxi) pronounces himself ready to die by the sword rather than give up the Nicene decrees, and Pope Leo the Great expressly declares that "whoso resists the Councils of Nicaea and Chalcedon cannot be numbered among Catholics" (Ep. lxxviii, ad Leonem Augustum). In the same epistle he says that the decrees of Chalcedon were framed instruente Spiritu Sancto, i.e. under the guidance of the Holy Ghost…The Scripture texts on which this unshaken belief is based are, among others: "But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach you all truth . . ." John xvi, 13) "Behold I am with you [teaching] all days even to the consummation of the world" (Matt., xxviii, 20), "The gates of hell shall not prevail against it [i.e. the Church]" (Matt., xvi, 18)…
The infallibility of the Council is intrinsic, i.e. Springs from its nature. Christ promised to be in the midst of two or three of His disciples gathered together in His name; now an Ecumenical council is, in fact or in law, a gathering of all Christ's co-workers for the salvation of man through true faith and holy conduct; He is therefore in their midst, fulfilling His promises and leading them into the truth for which they are striving. His presence, by cementing the unity of the assembly into one body -- His own mystical body -- gives it the necessary completeness, and makes up for any defect possibly arising from the physical absence of a certain number of bishops. [15]
It was shortly after the Edict of Milan (313 AD) that the Church found with its new freedom from persecution that it would not come without a price. With Christians free to travel throughout the Empire without problems, heresies that had once been more local aberrations now had the potential to engulf larger sections of the Church than previously. Just as orthodox believers were free to travel the highways of the Empire, so too were the heterodox that were now capable of sowing their seeds of deceit to an extent unheard of in the previous periods of Church history. The first major heresy the Church faced after the Edict of Milan was signed was Arianism. Donatism was also a problem but it was mostly confined to the African continent and is properly classified as a schism. Arianism was a heresy and a most noxious one for its purveyor (a presbyter named Arius) denied that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. The Emperor called together bishops and other clergy from all parts of the Empire to address this problem. The meeting place was in Nicaea and this was the first of the Ecumenical (or General) Councils of the Church. The purpose here is not to delve into General Councils or how they are called constituted, governed, etc. Instead, the purpose to place them within the framework of church history.

Whether or not you agree with the concept of Church Infallibility in General Council or not, there is no denying that this is a method of achieving not only unity but also certainty in doctrine. To read the New Testament writings as well as the writings of the Church Fathers, the same theme is prevalent, they speak of the Church as a Body. Our Lord refers to Himself as a vine with the Apostles (and by extension other believers) as the branches (John 15) and that there is no life for those who are severed from the vine. Likewise, the Fathers were adamant that there was no salvation outside the Church and the Church always rejected its communion to those that in its judgment dissented from the ecclesiastical and apostolic tradition. The Church in placing its ban on those who rejected its teachings was (to quote Butler) "conscious of the words of the New Testament of being the ground and pillar of truth and the claim of the Church both in General Council and also the Apostolic See in approving or rejecting doctrines brought before it claimed to declare the truth so as to exclude errors" (pg. 44). In every age the Church has forcefully declared that her teachings are the truth and those who disagree with her are heretical and are thus in error. In the mind of this author, how anyone can study the Fathers and not realize this fact is a mystery as it is from the earliest of times very explicitly stated.

One need not be infallible to be certain of course (and Catholic apologists who fail to make this distinction should be strangled) but there is no denying that with infallibility is certainty. Certainly there is Scriptural weight to this argument. After all, Our Lord promised to send the Holy Spirit to dwell with the Church forever (John 14:15-18). Likewise, He promised to be with His Apostles (who at the time were the entire Church) "all days even unto the consummation of the world" (Matt. 28:19-20). Stop and consider for a moment the light this sheds on Our Lord's claim that the gates of hell would not prevail over the Church (Mt. 16:18). The claim that He would be with the Church always (Mt. 28:20). The claim that the Holy Spirit would be with the Church leading her into all truth (cf. John. 16:13). That he would not leave us as orphans (John. 14:18). Would not a charism of protection from error aid in the preservation of unity??? Would it not make perfect sense of Paul's statement that the Church of God was "the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15)??? The only question now is how this is put into practice. It is one thing to say that "General Councils are incapable of erring in their universally promulgated doctrinal decrees" and another to point out what a General Council actually is or how this determination is made. The belief in General Council infallibility is one where there is not much difference between Catholics and Eastern Christians. The differences that do exist in this area involve the role of the papacy in the equation. The only way to avoid the kind of circularity that plagues those of the "Sola Scriptura" camp is to consider the papacy and what kind of role it lends to fostering unity in the Church. This will be addressed in the next few sections.


[1] B.C. Butler: "The Church and Infallibility", pgs. 23-25 (c. 1954)

[2] Didache §4, 3 (c. 80 AD) ited in W. A. Jurgens The Faith Of The Early Fathers Vol. I, pg. 2 (c. 1970)

[3] Pope St. Clement: Letter to the Corinthians §1,1, (c. 95 AD) cited in W. A. Jurgens The Faith Of The Early Fathers Vol. I, pg. 7 (c. 1970)

[4] Pope St. Clement: Letter to the Corinthians §47,6 (c. 95 AD) cited in W. A. Jurgens The Faith Of The Early Fathers Vol. I, pg. 11 (c. 1970)

[5] Pope St. Clement: Letter to the Corinthians §49 (c. 95 AD) cited in W. A. Jurgens The Faith Of The Early Fathers Vol. I, pg. 11 (c. 1970)

[6] Pope St. Clement: Letter to the Corinthians §57,1 (c. 95 AD) cited in W. A. Jurgens The Faith Of The Early Fathers Vol. I, pg. 12 (c. 1970)

[7] St. Ignatius of Antioch: Epistle to the Smyrnaens §8 (c. 110 AD) cited in W. A. Jurgens The Faith Of The Early Fathers Vol. I, pg. 24 (c. 1970)

[8] St. Ignatius of Antioch: Epistle to the Philadelphians §3 (c. 110 AD)*

[9] St. Ignatius of Antioch: Epistle to the Philadelphians §8, 2 (c. 110 AD)  cited in W. A. Jurgens The Faith Of The Early Fathers Vol. I, pg. 23 (c. 1970)

[10] St. Irenaeus of Lyons: "Against Heresies" (AH) Book IV, 26:2 (c. 180 AD)*

[11] AH V 20, 1  cited in W. A. Jurgens The Faith Of The Early Fathers Vol. I, pg. 101 (c. 1970)

[12] AH V 20, 2*

[13] St. Cyprian: On Unity §6 (c. 251 AD), in ANF, V:423*

[14] St. Cyprian: The Unity of the Church §4-5 (Primacy Text, A.D. 251/256), NE, 228-229*

[15] Catholic Encyclopedia: From the article "General Councils" (c. 1913)

Additional Notes:

The citations from B.C. Butler were taken from his book "The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to the Abridged Salmon", Sheed and Ward New York, 1954

The citations from the Church Fathers are taken from William A Jurgens' "The Faith of the Early Fathers" Vol. I, The Order of St. Benedict, Inc. Collegeville, Minnesota, c. 1970 unless otherwise noted with a * symbol.

The citations from the Church Fathers that were not taken from Jurgen's work which are marked with a * symbol were obtained at Joe Gallegos' Corunum Apologetics web-site which specializes in Patristic studies: http://www.cin.org/users/jgallegos/contents.htm

The citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia was taken from the following link: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04423f.htm

©2001, "Christian Unity and the Role of Authority", written by I. Shawn McElhinney. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

To all visitors Grace of Christ to you!

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