"You are the salt of the earth."

Matthew 5:13

Forming disciples

The USCCB lists three goals for adult faith formation.

  1. To Invite and Enable Ongoing Conversion to Jesus in Holiness of Life.
  2. To Promote and Support Active Membership in the Christian Community.
  3. To Call and Prepare Adults to Act as Disciples in Mission to the World.

"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Matthew 28:19

The Great Commission

St. Paul calls the Church “the pillar and foundation of truth.” The basis of this maxim is to be found in Matthew 28:19-20, where it is written,


“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."


Here, Jesus addresses His apostles not individually, but rather as a collective body; showing that the commission given to the apostles, was eo ipso (that is, in itself) the commission given to the Church. Thus, it is the Church itself which possesses by divine right, the duty to proclaim and safeguard the Gospel. Note well that when I use the term ‘Gospel,’ I am not referring to the four written books, rather I am alluding to the entire deposit of faith which was entrusted to the Church. Now, if we look into the early history of the Church, we find that the Apostles initially carried out their mission by preaching Christ, and only later did they find it necessary to write anything down. In fact, there is a long standing tradition which holds that the apostles only reluctantly wrote down their teachings; favoring oral discourse to written letter. This reluctance stems from a view in the ancient world, which considered that which was taught by word of mouth to more reliable than the letter. As evidence of this, St. Papias of Hierapolis (who died before the year 130 AD) is reported to have said:


“For I imagined that what was to be got from books was not so profitable to me as what came from the living and abiding voice.” (Eusebius, Church History iii. 39)


Despite having access to several New Testament writings, St. Papias still places greater emphasis on oral tradition, rather than Scripture itself. Which brings us to the central issue of the Catholic-Protestant debate. If the Holy Scriptures were the sole source of doctrinal authority, then we should expect to find evidence of this belief in the early Church. However, all the evidence suggests that the notion of sola scriptura was completely foreign to the ancient Church. As of yet, Protestants have not adequately addressed two important criticisms:


1). Why neither the Apostles, nor their immediate successors, saw it fit to define a specific canon of Holy Scripture (either of the Old or New Testaments).


2). Why no ecumenical council in the first millennium addressed the topic of the canon of Scripture.


This lack of urgency in defining the confines of Holy Scripture, seems to suggest that the Scriptures did not occupy the same role in the early Church as Protestants seem to suggest. In fact, the 7th Ecumenical Council (otherwise known as the Second Council of Nicaea in 787) undermines Protestantism altogether. It states:


“Anathema to those who spurn the teachings of the holy Fathers and the tradition of the Catholic Church, taking as a pretext and making their own the arguments of Arius, Nestorius, Eutyches (Uticus), and Dioscorus (Dio-scorus), that unless we were evidently taught by the Old and New Testaments, we should not follow the teachings of the holy Fathers and of the holy Ecumenical Synods, and the tradition of the Catholic Church.”

"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance."

Acts 2:1-4

Fathers of the Church

"The word Father is used in the New Testament to mean a teacher of spiritual things, by whose means the soul of man is born again into the likeness of Christ: "For if you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet not many fathers. For in Christ Jesus, by the gospel, I have begotten you. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me, as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 4:15, 16; cf. Galatians 4:19). The first teachers of Christianity seem to be collectively spoken of as "the Fathers" (2 Peter 3:4).


Thus St. Irenæus defines that a teacher is a father, and a disciple is a son (iv, 41,2), and so says Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.1.1). A bishop is emphatically a "father in Christ", both because it was he, in early times, who baptized all his flock, and because he is the chief teacher of his church. But he is also regarded by the early Fathers, such as Hegesippus, Irenaeus, and Tertullian as the recipient of the tradition of his predecessors in the see, and consequently as the witness and representative of the faith of his Church before Catholicity and the world. Hence the expression "the Fathers" comes naturally to be applied to the holy bishops of a preceding age, whether of the last generation or further back, since they are the parents at whose knee the Church of today was taught her belief. It is also applicable in an eminent way to bishops sitting in council, "the Fathers of Nicaea", "the Fathers of Trent". Thus Fathers have learnt from Fathers, and in the last resort from the Apostles, who are sometimes called Fathers in this sense:

"They are your Fathers", says St. Leo, of the Princes of the Apostles, speaking to the Romans; St. Hilary of Arles calls them sancti patres; Clement of Alexandria says that his teachers, from Greece, Ionia, Coele-Syria, Egypt, the Orient, Assyria, Palestine, respectively, had handed on to him the tradition of blessed teaching from Peter, and James, and John, and Paul, receiving it "as son from father".


It follows that, as our own Fathers are the predecessors who have taught us, so the Fathers of the whole Church are especially the earlier teachers, who instructed her in the teaching of the Apostles, during her infancy and first growth. It is difficult to define the first age of the Church, or the age of the Fathers. It is a common habit to stop the study of the early Church at the Council of Chalcedon in 451. "The Fathers" must undoubtedly include, in the West, St. Gregory the Great (d. 604), and in the East, St. John Damascene (d. about 754). It is frequently said that St. Bernard (d. 1153) was the last of the Fathers, and Migne's "Patrologia Latina" extends to Innocent III, halting only on the verge of the thirteenth century, while his "Patrologia Graeca" goes as far as the Council of Florence (1438-9). These limits are evidently too wide, It will be best to consider that the great merit of St. Bernard as a writer lies in his resemblance in style and matter to the greatest among the Fathers, in spite of the difference of period. St. Isidore of Seville (d. 636) and the Venerable Bede (d. 735) are to be classed among the Fathers, but they may be said to have been born out of due time, as St. Theodore the Studite was in the East."

(John Chapman, "Fathers of the Church" The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6.)