16 March 2007

A second letter to the editor

A letter written by the Rev. Stanley E. Wilber of Watson was published in the 12 March 2007 issue of the Effingham Daily News in response to my letter published 14 February 2007. Rev. Wilber writes:

As for there being a difference between the Catholic and Protestant Ten Commandments, it might be pointed out there are Christians who are not Catholics nor [sic] Protestants. This groups [sic] is [sic] to as Anabaptist who go straight back to the Apostles. We are not part of Constantine’s religious government.
Rev. Wilber then gives a lengthy passage from page 61 of the book The Sacred Book of Jews, the author and publication details of which he does not provide. If you want to read the quotation, see his original letter.

My reply to Rev. Wilber is as follows:

In his letter to the editor published under the title “A history of the Ten Commandments” in the 12 March 2007 issue of the Effingham Daily News, the Reverend Stanley E. Wilbur claims, “…it might be pointed out there are Christians who are not Catholics nor Protestants. This groups [sic] is referred to as Anabaptist who go straight back to the Apostles.” This statement is false and lacks authentic historical credibility and verification.

The Anabaptists – the forerunners not of the contemporary Baptists but of the Mennonites [named after Menno Simons (1496-1591)] – were founded as those who rejected infant baptism; their name means “re-baptizers.” They are – quite clearly – a group belonging under the “umbrella term” Protestant, those who protested against the Church of Rome, the Catholic Church. In point of fact, the Anabaptists first appeared in 1521 at Zwickau (modern day Saxony).

The term “Catholic” – catholicos in Greek – means “universal,” as opposed to the many early groups of heretics (the Gnostics, Arians, Donatists, and Montanists, to name a few) who held beliefs incompatible with both the Old and New Testaments. Saint Ireneus (130-202) most appropriately first applied this term to describe the Christian Church. As the late and celebrated historian Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006) has noted,

…the primitive church was not characterized by an explicit unity of doctrine; therefore heresy could sometimes claim greater antiquity than orthodoxy. But what did characterize primitive Christianity was a unity of life, of fidelity to the Old Testament, of devotion, and of loyalty to its Lord, as he was witnessed to in the Old and New Testament. Heresy was a deviation from that unity… (The Christian Tradition: A History and Development of Doctrine, Vol. I: The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition [Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971], 70.)
It was not until the time of the Reformation that the Church officially took upon itself the title “the Catholic Church,” and only then it was done to distinguish itself from the many Protestant groups who where breaking away in protest from the universal Church.

The Rev. Wilbur continues, saying, “We are not part of Constantine’s religious government.” Neither is the Catholic Church. This statement betrays a further lack of historical clarity and assumes that the Catholic Church is Constantine’s church, which simply is not true. What is true is that the Emperor Constantine (ca. 280-337) called the Bishops of the Church together in Council at Nicea in A.D. 325 to condemn the teaching of Arius who claimed that Jesus was not divine. The convocation of the Council of Nicea by the emperor marked a new turn in the relationship between the Church and the emperor, a change that went far deeper in the Byzantine (Orthodox) Church than in the Catholic. Constantine called the Bishops together to establish peace within his Empire, not to dominate and control the Church. As Saint Ambrose (340-397) magnificently put it: “The emperor is in the Church, not over the Church.”
I regret that misspelled his name throughout the letter, an error that I only now noticed. To Rev. Wilber I offer my apologies.

4 comments:

  1. Interesting. Several years ago, I was surprised to hear a few Baptists claim they weren't Protestants. Now I see where they got it. Understand? Not by a long shot, but I see where they got it.

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  2. Keep watching. I'm typing up a third letter now...

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  3. I was raised in a "oneness" pentecostal church who claimed that there was always a remnant of original "apostolic" Christians who did not buy the "manmade" doctrine of the Trinity. They said that this "remnant" lived, secluded, for millenia in what is now Ethiopia. My most logical guess is that they caught wind of some of the Coptic monasteries in the mountains of that country and decided to attribute their erroneous claims to these men who have no means to clear their name.

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  4. It's almost wondrous what people can convince themselves is true, despite every bit of evidence to the contrary.

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