The M+G+R Foundation
The Fathers and Doctors of the Catholic Faith In Historical Perspective
They Are Not Necessarily the Role Models to Follow
Jesus Christ and His Family (1) Are the Ones
to Learn From
Many faithful Catholics (East and West) greatly
revere those whom the Church has named "Doctor of the Church" or
"Church Father." Often, their works are quoted to prove a point or to
close an argument, as if the Fathers and Doctors were authors of Scripture.
However, the words and deeds of some of these Catholic leaders sometimes
were in direct, grievous violation of Divine Law; these men were neither
infallible nor impeccable nor examples to follow.
Here are some little-remembered, but easily verified, facts about the deeds of some of these all-too-fallible churchmen.
The era of the Church Fathers
In the "Christian" Roman Empire, during the late
300s and early 400s, the Church went from being persecuted to being a
persecutor. Paul Johnson, a historian of the Church, said that "The late
empire was a totalitarian state, in some ways an oriental despotism. ...
State torture, supposedly used only in serious cases such as treason, was in
fact employed whenever the State willed." (2)
Pope Damasus I (305-384; Saint, Church Father, and Pope from 366-384): This alleged defender of the faith began his reign with riot and massacre. As Richard McBrien's Lives of the Popes summarizes the bloody affair:
« ...a faction that had been consistently loyal to Liberius [the preceding
Pope] met immediately in the Julian basilica of Santa Maria in Trastavere,
elected the deacon Ursinus, and had him consecrated Bishop of Rome
... Another, larger faction loyal to Felix [an antipope who had opposed
Liberius, and who was Damasus' former employer] met in the church of San
Lorenzo in Lucina and elected the deacon Damasus, who hired a gang of thugs to
storm the Julian basilica, routing the Ursinians in a three-day massacre.
Damasus was consecrated by the bishop of Ostia in the Lateran Basilica on
October 1, after his supporters had seized the church. Following his
consecration, however, bloody fighting continued in the streets of Rome.
But the violence continued, and Damasus dispatched his own forces to attack
Ursinus's supporters, who had taken refuge in the Liberian Basilica (now St.
Mary Major). A contemporary historian reported that some 137 died in the
battle [which occurred on October 27, 366]. ... Although Damasus had badly
blotted his ecclesiastical copybook, he enjoyed much favor with the court and
the aristocracy, especially women of wealth. Roman gossips nicknamed him 'the
matrons' ear-tickler.' His grand lifestyle and lavish hospitality endeared him
to the upper-class pagan families. At the same time, he was relentless in
opposing heresies and other dissident movements in the Church. ...
Damasus was tireless, in fact, in promoting the primacy of Rome, referring to it frequently as 'the Apostolic See,' and insisting that the test of a creed's orthodoxy is papal approval. » (3)
Another historian of the Papacy described Damasus as "a ruthless power-broker" who "did not hesitate to mobilise both the city police and the Christian mob to back up his rule." (4)
A pagan historian, Ammianus Marcellinus, commented
on the zeal with which churchmen sought the Papacy: "I do not deny that men
who covet this office in order to fulfill their ambitions may well struggle
for it with every resource at their disposal. For once they have obtained it
they are ever after secure, enriched with offerings from the ladies, riding
about seated in their carriages, splendidly arrayed, giving banquets so lavish
they surpass the tables of royalty." (5)
Augustine (354-430; Saint, Church Father and Doctor of the Church): The late Roman Empire used violence against the Donatist heretics, and St. Augustine "became the theorist of persecution; and his defences were later to be those on which all defences of the Inquisition rested. ... He insisted that the use of force in the pursuit of Christian unity, and indeed total religious conformity, was necessary, efficacious, and wholly justified." (6)
In addition to developing the theology of
Inquisition, Augustine developed "just war" theology, leading to the
punishment of pacifist conscious objectors, and leading to "the anomaly of two
Christian states each fighting a 'just' war against each other."
Cyril of Alexandria (370-444; Saint,
Church Father, and Doctor of the Church) was the Patriarch of Alexandria from
412 to 444. (8) Gruesome events occurred in Alexandria
during his reign of the local Church, and the perpetrators went
In 414, the first Christian-led pogrom occurred
there, wiping out the Jewish community of Alexandria for a time.
(9) In 415, a monk-incited mob tortured and murdered the
Neoplatonist philosopher Hypatia, blaming her for the dispute between Cyril
and the local governor. (10) The killing occurred in the
Caesareum, a former pagan site that had been converted into a church building.
(11) In Cyril's time, fanaticism (disguised as defense
of the faith) grew without hindrance.
Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153; Saint and Doctor of the Church) preached the Second Crusade, at the request of the Pope. (12) He also was the chaplain of the Knights Templar, and wrote the following praise of "holy war" to its members:
« But Christ's knights can fight their Lord's fight in safety, fearless of
sin in slaughter of their adversaries and fearless of danger at their own
deaths, since death suffered or dealt out on Christ's behalf holds no crime
and merits great glory. ...
Christ's knight deals out death in safety, as I said, and suffers death in
even greater safety. He benefits himself when he suffers death, and benefits
Christ when he deals out death. 'He does not wear a sword without cause; he is
God's agent for punishment of evil-doers and for glorification of the good.'
Clearly, when he kills an evil-doer, he is not a homicide, but, if you will
allow me the term, a malicide, and is plainly Christ's vengeance on those who
work evil and the defense Christ provides for Christians. When such a
knight is himself killed, we know that he has not simply perished but has won
through to the end of this life. The death he inflicts accrues to Christ's
profit; the death he receives accrues to his own. The Christian glories in
a pagan's death, because Christ is glorified; in the death of a Christian, the
King's generosity is confirmed, by revelation of the knight's reward.
Pagans would not even have to be slaughtered, if there were some other way to prevent them from besetting and oppressing the faithful. But now it is better that they be killed than that the rod of these sinners continue to imperil the lot of the just, preventing the just from reaching out their hands against iniquity. » (13)
Such is the theology of "Christian" jihad.
With minor changes, it could have been written by Osama bin Laden or Ayatollah
It is possible to learn much from studying the
works of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. Nevertheless, as these
instances show, great discernment must be used in the examination of
the works of these fallible - and sometimes brutally unholy - men.
Meditation on the Scriptures and direct
interaction with God through prayer should always take priority over
patristic study. There is only one real "Father of the Church" - and
only one real "Doctor of the Church": God Himself.
(1) For whosoever
shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and
sister, and mother. [Matthew 12:50]
(2) Paul Johnson, A History of Christianity, Atheneum, 1976, p. 116.
(3) Richard McBrien, Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to Benedict XVI, Harper San Francisco, 2006, pp. 62-63, 64; see also J. N. D. Kelly, The Oxford Dictionary of the Popes, Oxford University Press, 2006, pp. 32-34.
(4) Eamon Duffy, Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, Yale University Press, 2006, p. 38.
(5) Duffy, Saints & Sinners, p. 38.
(6) Johnson, A History of Christianity, p. 116.
(7) Johnson, A History of Christianity, p. 242.
(8) Wikipedia, "Cyril of Alexandria", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyril_of_Alexandria
(9) James Carroll, Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews, Houghton Mifflin, 2001, pp, 176, 213.
(10) Diarmaid MacCullough, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years, Viking, 2009, pp. 220-221.
(11) Wikipedia, "Hypatia", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hypatia
(12) Wikipedia,"Bernard of Clairvaux", http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_of_Clairvaux
(13) Bernard of Clairvaux, "De Laude Novae Militiae", paragraph 4, http://faculty.smu.edu/bwheeler/chivalry/bernard.html