The Fathers Know Best

Author: This Rock Magazine


Lately it seems as if there has been a subtle change in the Sacred Scriptures that we hear during the Liturgy of the Word at Mass. There are those readers out there who wish to use "inclusive" language in exchange for the Word as it is written. In looking for some historical precedent for this there was found many instances of folks changing the Word to suit their needs. Every time that this happened it was for the express purpose of either the expansion or defense of a heresy! Here are some examples from the early Church Fathers.


Such then is their system, which neither the prophets announced or the Lord taught, but of which they boast that above all others they have perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and they strive to weave ropes of sand while they try to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions to the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets, and the words of the Apostles in order that their scheme may not seem without support. In doing so they disregard the order and connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the Truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. (Against Heresies 1:8,1 {A.D.180-199})


Heretics have tampered with the scriptures, and mutilated, and altered them. Catholics never change the scriptures, which always testify for them. Where diversity of doctrine is found, there, then, must the corruption both of the Scriptures and the expositions thereof be regarded as existing. On those whose purpose it was to teach differently, lay the necessity of differently arranging the instruments of doctrine. They could not possibly have effected their diversity of teaching in any other way than by having a difference in the means whereby they taught. As in their case, corruption in doctrine could not possibly have succeeded without a corruption also of its instruments, so to ourselves also integrity of doctrine could not have accrued, without integrity in those means by which doctrine is managed. Now, what is there in our Scriptures which is contrary to us? What of our own have we introduced, that we should have to take it away again, or else add to it, or alter it, in order to restore to its natural soundness anything which is contrary to it, and contained in the Scriptures? What we are ourselves, that also the Scriptures are (and have been) from the beginning. One man perverts the Scriptures with his hand, another their meaning by his exposition. For although Valentinus seems to use the entire volume, he has none the less laid violent hands on the truth only with a more cunning mind and skill then Marcion. Marcion expressly and openly used the knife, not the pen, since he made such an excision of the Scriptures as suited his own subject-matter. Valentinus, however, abstained from such excision, because he did not invent Scriptures to square with his own subject-matter, but adapted his matter to the Scriptures; and yet he took away more, and added more, by removing the proper meaning of every particular word, and adding fantastic arrangements of things which have no real existence. (On Prescription Against Heretics 1:38 {A.D.200})


These were the ingenious arts of "spiritual wickednesses," wherewith we also, my brethren, may fairly expect to have "to wrestle," as necessary for faith, that the elect may be made manifest, (and) that the reprobate may be discovered. And therefore they possess influence, and a facility in thinking out and fabricating errors, which ought not to be wondered at as if it were a difficult and inexplicable process, seeing that in profane writings also an example comes ready to hand of a similar facility. (On Prescription Against Heretics 1:39 {A.D.200})


But some, not sufficiently instructed in heavenly learning, when they were unable to reply to the accusers of the truth, who objected that it was either impossible or inconsistent that God should be shut up in the womb of a woman, and that the Majesty of heaven could not be reduced to such weakness as to become an object of contempt and derision, a reproach and mockery to men; lastly, that He should even endure tortures, and be affixed to the accursed cross; and when they could defend and refute all these things neither by talent nor learning, for they did not thoroughly perceive their force and meaning, they were perverted from the right path, and corrupted the sacred writings, so that they composed for themselves a new doctrine without any root and stability. But some, enticed by the prediction of false prophets and he himself had foretold, fell away from the knowledge of God, and left the true tradition. But all of these, ensnared by frauds of demons, which they ought to have foreseen and guarded against, by their carelessness lost the name and worship of God. For when they called Phrygians, or Novatians, or Valentinians, or Marcionites, or Anthropians, or Arians, or by any other name, they have ceased to be Christians, who have lost the name of Christ, and assumed human and external names. Therefore it is the Catholic Church alone which retains true worship. (The Divine Institutes 4:30 {A.D.304-310})


The sacred Scriptures they have boldly falsified, and the canons of the ancient faith they have rejected, and Christ they have ignored, not inquiring what the sacred Scriptures say, but laboriously striving to discover what form of syllogism might be contrived to establish their impiety. (Disputation With Proclus 3:1 {A.D.198-214})


If then the use of certain passages of Scripture changes, in their opinion, the blasphemy of Thalia into reverent language, of course they ought also to deny Christ with the present Jews, when they see how they study the Law and the Prophets; perhaps too they will deny the Law and the Prophets like Manichees, because the latter read some portions of the Gospels. If such bewilderment and empty speaking be from ignorance, Scripture will teach them that the devil, the author of all heresies because of the ill savor which attaches to evil, borrows Scriptural language as a cloak to sow the ground with his own poison and seduce the simple. Thus he deceived Eve; thus he framed former heresies; thus he persuaded Arius to speak against those former ones that he might introduce his own without observation. Yet the man of craft did not escape. For being irreligious towards the word of God, he lost his all at once and betrayed to all men his ignorance of other heresies too; and having not a particle of the Truth in his belief he still pretends to it. (Four Discourses Against The Arians 1:3,8 {A.D.358-362})


Vainly then , the Arians have made this conjecture and vainly alleged the words of Scripture; for God's Word is unalterable and is ever in one state, not as it may happen, but as the Father is; since how is He like the Father unless He be such? How is all that is the Father's also the Son's if He has not the unalterableness and unchangeableness of the Father? (Four Discourses Against The Arians 1:12,52 {A.D.358-362})


Let the Marcionists be abhorred, they tear away from the New Testament the sayings of the Old. For Marcion asserted three gods, knowing that in the New Testament are contained testimonies of the Prophets concerning Christ, he cut out the testimonies taken from the Old Testament so that the King might be left without witness.

(Catechetical Lectures 16:7 {A.D. 350})


Of these things the Church admonishes and teaches you and touches the mire, that you may not be mired: She tells of the wounds, that you may not be wounded. But for you it is enough to know them: abstain from learning by experience. God thunders, we all tremble: and they blaspheme. God lightens, and we all bow down to the earth: and they have their blasphemous sayings about the heavens. These things are written in the books of the Manichees. These things we ourselves have read, because we ourselves could not believe those who told of them: for the sake of your salvation we have closely inquired into their perdition. (Catechetical Lectures 6:34 {A.D. 350})

John Cassian

Occasions and opportunities for destroying themselves cannot possibly be wanting to those who are on the road to ruin, or rather, to those who are anxious to destroy themselves; nor are the passages of Scripture to be rejected or altogether torn out of the volume because then the perversities of the heretics is encouraged, the unbelief of the Jews increased, and the pride of heathen wisdom is offended; but surely they are to be piously believed, firmly held, and preached according to the rule of truth. Therefore we should not because of another's unbelief, reject the economy of the prophets and saints which Scripture relates, for while we think that we ought to condescend to their infirmities, we stain ourselves with the sin of not only lying but of sacrilege. But for those who are wrongly disposed the opening for lies will not be blocked up by this means, if we are trying either altogether to deny or to explain away by allegorical interpretations the truth of those things which we are going to bring forward or have already brought forward. For how will the authority of these passages injure them if their corrupt will is alone sufficient to lead them to sin? (Second Conference of Abbot Joseph ch.16 {A.D. 420-428})


Furthermore, whatever they had censured in Your Scriptures I thought impossible to be defended; and yet sometimes I desired to confer on those several points with someone well learned in those books and to try what he thought of them. For at this time the words of one Helpidius, disputing against the Manichaens, had begun to move me even at Carthage, in that he brought forth things from the Scriptures not easily withstood, to which their answer seemed feeble. This answer they did not give forth publicly, but only in private. Then they said that the writings of the New Testament had been tampered with by I know not whom, who were desirous of ingrafting the Jewish law upon the Christian faith; but they themselves did not bring forth any uncorrupted copies. (Confessions ch. 21 {A.D. 400})


It is one thing to reject the books themselves,...and it is another thing to say that this holy man wrote only the truth, and this is his epistle, but some verses are his and some are not. And then when you are asked for proof, instead of producing more correct and ancient manuscripts, or to a greater number, or to the original text, your reply is: this verse is his, because it makes for me; and this is not, because it is against me. (Reply to Faustus the Manichaen 11:2 {A.D.400})


Your design clearly is to deprive Scripture of all authority, and to make every man's mind the authority of what he is to approve or disapprove of. This is not to be subject to Scripture in matters of faith, but to make Scripture subject to you. Instead of making the high authority of Scripture the reason of approval, every man makes his approval the reason for thinking a passage correct. If then you discard authority, to what, poor feeble soul, darkened by the mists of carnality, to what, I beseech you, will you betake yourself? (Reply To Faustus The Manichaen 32:19 {A.D.400})

John Chrysostom

For if it had been spoken plainly, they would have acted here as they have in other places, they would have blotted out the words, they would have denied the Scripture, when they were unable at all to look it in the face. (Homily On Philippians #11 {A.D.398-404})