They were Catholic, not Protestant
Here's what the Early Church Fathers of the first generation after the apostles had to say — if you notice; they were Catholic, not Protestant. Well, OK, they weren't modern Catholics, nor Medieval Catholics. But they certainly weren't proto-Protestants! or Baptists! or Calvary Chapel!
Fundamentalist evangelical Protestants usually claim that key Catholic doctrines such as the Eucharist, priesthood, development of doctrine, importance of tradition, and the papacy have no basis from the Early Church Fathers. I present here their writings of the first generation after the New Testament — from 99 A.D to 150 A.D. The essential points of these Catholic doctrines are already clear and well-developed.
I wrote these series of articles (see menu sidebar to the left) as a Catholic for Catholics, but I no longer accept Catholic teaching as the authoritative source of truth.I have not attempted to align these articles with my current views.
Clement's First Epistle to the Corinthians — about 99 A.D.
Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, and there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect fore-knowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterwards gave instructions, that when these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.
Clement writes about strife and division in the Corinthian church. There is to be a succession of leaders,each remaining in office until death. These leaders are to foster unity and prevent strife; this implies they have power to discipline.
The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles — about 100 A.D.
At the church meeting you must confess your sins, and not approach prayer with a bad conscience.
An important part of church service is confession. Protestants abandoned this.
Now about baptism:
This is how to baptize. Give public instruction on all these points, and then "baptize" in running water, "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." If you do not have running water, baptize in some other. If you cannot in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, then pour water on the head three times in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Before the baptism, moreover, the one who baptizes and the one being baptized must fast, and any others who can. And you must tell the one being baptized to fast for one or two days beforehand.
Now about the Eucharist:
This is how to give thanks:
First in connection with the cup:
"We thank you, our Father, for the holy vine of David, your child, which you have revealed through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever."
Then in connection with the piece [broken off the loaf]:
We thank you, our Father, for the life and knowledge which you have revealed through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever.
"As this piece [of bread] was scattered over the hills and then was brought together and made one, so let your Church be brought together from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom. For yours is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ forever."
You must not let anyone eat or drink of your Eucharist except those baptized in the Lord's name. For in reference to this the Lord said, "Do not give what is sacred to dogs."
The Eucharist is sacred and should not be given to unbelievers; only baptized Christians may partake. This makes no sense at all if communion is merely symbolic.
After you have finished your meal, say grace in this way:
We thank you, holy Father, for your sacred name which you have lodged in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which you have revealed through Jesus, your child. To you be glory forever.
Almighty Master, you have created everything for the sake of your name, and have given men food and drink to enjoy that they may thank you. But to us you have given spiritual food and drink and eternal life through Jesus, your child.
The bread and wine are not mere physical food but also spiritual food. Spiritual doesn't mean symbolic; who would insist that the spiritual realm of the angels and demons is merely symbolic?
Now, you should welcome anyone who comes your way and teaches you all we have been saying. But if the teacher proves himself a renegade and by teaching otherwise contradicts all this, pay no attention to him. But if his teaching furthers the Lord's righteousness and knowledge, welcome him as the Lord.
Everyone "who comes" to you "in the name of the Lord" must be welcomed. Afterward, when you have tested him, you will find out about him, for you have insight into right and wrong.
Every genuine prophet who wants to settle with you "has a right to his support." Similarly, a genuine teacher himself, just like a "workman, has a right to his support." Hence take all the first fruits of vintage and harvest, and of cattle and sheep, and give these first fruits to the prophets. For they are your high priests.
On every Lord's Day-his special day-come together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. Anyone at variance with his neighbor must not join you, until they are reconciled, lest your sacrifice be defiled. For it was of this sacrifice that the Lord said, "Always and everywhere offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is marveled at by the nations."
Communion (mass) is a sacrifice. Protestants claim it's not a sacrifice. Partaking of the Lord's Supper can only be a sacrifice if the Eucharist is mystical; meaning, something real and tangible occurs in the spiritual realm. This matches the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation but not the Protestant idea of communion as merely symbolic.
You must, then, elect for yourselves bishops and deacons who are a credit to the Lord, men who are gentle, generous, faithful, and well tried. For their ministry to you is identical with that of the prophets and teachers. You must not, therefore, despise them, for along with the prophets and teachers they enjoy a place of honor among you.
The church is commanded to elect their bishops. It is doubtful this refers to a local congregation voting for a pastor as congregational denominations do. Elections are only possible with rules governing the election and authority figures managing the process. In effect, the voting is really a way of vetoing unpopular candidates to ensure the congregation at large is happy and supportive about the new bishop proposed by other bishops and other elders of the local church.
Letter to the Smyrnaens — about 110 A.D.
For I detected that you were fitted out with an unshakable faith, being nailed, as it were, body and soul to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, and being rooted in love by the blood of Christ.
There is a mystical significance to the blood of Christ rather than a merely figurative one.
(We are part of His fruit which grew out of his most blessed Passion.) And thus, by his resurrection, he raised a standard to rally his saints and faithful forever-whether Jews or Gentiles-in one body of his Church. For it was for our sakes that he suffered all this, to save us. And he genuinely suffered, as even he genuinely raised himself. It is not as some unbelievers say, that his Passion was a sham. It's they who are a sham! Yes, and their fate will fit their fancies-they will be ghosts and apparitions.
He is writing about people who don't believe the basics of the Christian faith concerning such key doctrines as the real sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Let no one be misled: heavenly beings, the splendor of angels, and principalities, visible and invisible, if they fail to believe in Christ's blood, they too are doomed.
Pay close attention to those who have wrong notions about the grace of Jesus Christ, which has come to us, and note how at variance they are with God's mind. They care nothing about love: they have no concern for widows or orphans, for the oppressed, for those in prison or released, for the hungry or the thirsty. They hold aloof from the Eucharist and from services of prayer, because they refuse to admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins and which, in his goodness, the Father raised [from the dead]. Consequently those who wrangle and dispute God's gift face death. They would have done better to love and so share in the resurrection. The right thing to do, then, is to avoid such people and to talk about them neither in private nor in public. Rather pay attention to the prophets and above all to the gospel. There we get a clear picture of the Passion and see that the resurrection has really happened.
Some don't believe the Eucharist is the literal flesh and blood of Christ, and this is wrong thinking.
From Chapter 8 — Flee from schism as the source of mischief. You should all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father. Follow, too, the presbytery as you would the apostles; and respect the deacons as you would God's law. Nobody must do anything that has to do with the Church without the bishop's approval. You should regard that Eucharist as valid which is celebrated either by the bishop or by someone he authorizes.Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. Without the bishop's supervision, no baptisms or love feasts are permitted. On the other hand, whatever he approves pleases God as well. In that way everything you do will be on the safe side and valid.
From Chapter 9 — It is well for us to come to our senses at last, while we still have a chance to repent and turn to God. It is a fine thing to acknowledge God and the bishop. He who pays the bishop honor has been honored by God. But he who acts without the bishop's knowledge is in the devil's service.
Letter to the Philadelphians — about 110 A.D.
Be careful, then, to observe a single Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and one cup of his blood that makes us one, and one altar, just as there is one bishop along with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow slaves. In that way whatever you do is in line with God's will.
This passage literally states that the bread and wine are Christ's body and blood; communion is not merely symbolic.
Being a prisoner for his cause makes me the more fearful that I am still far from being perfect. Yet your prayers to God will make me perfect so that I may gain that fate which I have mercifully been allotted, by taking refuge in the "Gospel," as in Jesus' flesh, and in the "Apostles," as in the presbytery of the Church.
Ignatius equates the presbytery with the Apostles, and the flesh of Christ with the gospel.
It was the Spirit that kept on preaching in these words: "Do nothing apart from the bishop; keep your bodies as if they were God's temple; value unity; flee schism; imitate Jesus Christ as he imitated his Father." The Lord forgives all who repent-if; that is, their repentance brings them into God's unity and to the bishop's council.
When I heard some people saying, "If I don't find it in the original documents, I don't believe it in the gospel," I answered them, "But it is written there." They retorted, "That's just the question." To my mind it is Jesus Christ who is the original documents. The inviolable archives are his cross and death and his resurrection and the faith that came by him. It is by these things and through your prayers that I want to be justified.
Priests are a fine thing, but better still is the High Priest who was entrusted with the Holy of Holies.
Letter to the Magnesians — about 110 A.D.
From Chapter 6 — Let the bishop preside in God's place, and the presbyters take the place of the apostolic council, and let the deacons (my special favorites) be entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ. . . .
There is only one hierarchy, not the thousands as in Protestant denominations (and non-denominations.)
From Chapter 7 — As, then, the Lord/did nothing without the Father (either on his own or by the apostles) because he was at one with him, so you must not do anything without the bishop and presbyters. Do not, moreover, try to convince yourselves that anything done on your own is commendable.
From Chapter 13 — Make a real effort, then, to stand firmly by the orders of the Lord and the apostles, so that "whatever you do, you may succeed" in body and soul, in faith and love, in Son, Father, and Spirit, from first to last, along with your most distinguished bishop, your presbytery (that neatly plaited spiritual wreath!), and your godly deacons. Defer to the bishop and to one another as Jesus Christ did to the Father in the days of his flesh, and as the apostles did to Christ, to the Father, and to the Spirit.
Letter to the Trallians — about 110 A.D.
From Chapter 2 — For when you obey the bishop as if he were Jesus Christ, you are (as I see it) living not in a merely human fashion but in Jesus Christ's way, who for our sakes suffered death that you might believe in his death and so escape dying yourselves. It is essential, therefore, to act in no way without the bishop, just as you are doing. Rather submit even to the presbytery as to the apostles of Jesus Christ. He is our Hope, and if we live in union with him now, we shall gain eternal life. Those too who are deacons of Jesus Christ's "mysteries" must give complete satisfaction to everyone. For they do not serve mere food and drink, but minister to God's Church.
A hierarchy in the Church with the bishops at the top.
From Chapter 7 — Inside the sanctuary a man is pure; outside he is impure. That means: whoever does anything without bishop, presbytery, and deacons does not have a clear conscience.
Letter to the Ephesians — about 110 A.D.
From Chapter 4 — Hence you should act in accord with the bishop's mind, as you surely do. Your presbytery, indeed, which deserves its name and is a credit to God, is as closely tied to the bishop as the strings to a harp. Wherefore your accord and harmonious love is a hymn to Jesus Christ.
From Chapter 5 — Let us, then, heartily avoid resisting the bishop so that we may he subject to God.
From Chapter 6 — For everyone the Master of the house sends on his business, we ought to receive as the One who sent him. It is clear, then, that we should regard the bishop as the Lord himself.
From Chapter 20 — At these meetings you should heed the bishop and presbytery attentively, and break one loaf, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote which wards off death but yields continuous life in union with Jesus Christ.
Letter to Polycarp — about 110 A.D.
Pay attention to the bishop so that God will pay attention to you. I give my life as a sacrifice (poor as it is) for those who are obedient to the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons.
About 150 A.D.
Chapter 66 — And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation [transformation] are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, "This do ye in remembrance of Me, this is My body;" and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, "This is My blood;" and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.
This passage states that the bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Christ and that in partaking of the Eucharist, our bodies are nourished by transformation or transmutation — a spiritual nourishment. Communion is not merely symbolic.
The Heretics — about 150 A.D.
Now the Church, although scattered over the whole civilized world to the end of the earth, received from the apostles and their disciples its faith in one God, the Father Almighty, who made the heaven, and the earth, and the seas, and all that is in them, and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who was made flesh for our salvation, and in the Holy Spirit, who through the prophets proclaimed the dispensations of God-the comings, the birth of a virgin, the suffering, the resurrection from the dead, and the bodily reception into the heavens of the beloved, Christ Jesus our Lord, and his coming from the heavens in the glory of the Father to restore all things, and to raise up all flesh, that is, the whole human race, so that every knee may bow, of things in heaven and on earth and under the earth, to Christ Jesus our Lord and God and Saviour and King, according to the pleasure of the invisible Father, and every tongue may confess him, and that he may execute righteous judgment on all. The spiritual powers of wickedness, and the angels who transgressed and fell into apostasy, and the godless and wicked and lawless and blasphemers among men he will send into the eternal fire. But to the righteous and holy, and those who have kept his commandments and have remained in his love, some from the beginning [of life] and some since their repentance, he will by his grace give life incorrupt, and will clothe them with eternal glory.
Having received this preaching and this faith, as I have said, the Church, although scattered in the whole world, carefully preserves it, as if living in one house. She believes these things [everywhere] alike, as if she had but one heart and one soul, and preaches them harmoniously, teaches them, and hands them down, as if she had but one mouth. For the languages of the world are different, but the meaning of the [Christian] tradition is one and the same.
There is one visible, institutional church, not thousands of denominations (and non-denominational denominations.)
Redemption and the World to Come — about 150 A.D.
For if this [mortal flesh] is not saved, then neither did the Lord redeem us by his blood, nor is the cup of the Eucharist the communion of his blood, and the bread which we break the communion of his body. For blood is only to be found in veins and flesh, and the rest of [physical] human nature, which the Word of God was indeed made [partaker of; and so] he redeemed us by his blood. So also his apostle says, "In whom we have redemption by his blood, and the remission of sins." For since we are his members, and are nourished by [his] creation-and he himself gives us this creation, making the sun to rise, and sending the rain as he wills-he declares that the cup, [taken] from the creation, is his own blood, by which he strengthens our blood, and he has firmly assured us that the bread, [taken] from the creation, is his own body, by which our bodies grow. For when the mixed cup and the bread that has been prepared receive the Word of God, and become the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, and by these our flesh grows and is confirmed, how can they say that flesh cannot receive the free gift of God, which is eternal life, since it is nourished by the body and blood of the Lord, and made a member of him? As the blessed Paul says in the Epistle to the Ephesians, that we are members of His body, of his flesh and his bones. He does not say this about a [merely] spiritual and invisible man, for the spirit has neither bones nor flesh, but about [God's] dispensation for the real man, [a dispensation] consisting of flesh and nerves and bones, which is nourished by his cup, which is his blood, and grows by the bread which is his body.
And just as the wooden branch of the vine, placed in the earth, bears fruit in its own time-and as the grain of wheat, falling into the ground and there dissolved, rises with great increase by the Spirit of God, who sustains all things, and then by the wisdom of God serves for the use of men, and when it receives the Word of God becomes the Eucharist, which is the body and blood of Christ-so also our bodies which are nourished by it, and then fall into the earth and are dissolved therein, shall rise at the proper time, the Word of God bestowing on them this rising again, to the glory of God the Father.
The bread and wine become the flesh and blood of Christ; communion is not merely symbolic.