“Ancient Baptists” and Other Myths
Fr. Hugh Barbour, O.Praem.
Nicea, August 24, A.D. 325, 7:41 p.m. “That was powerful preaching, Brother Athanasius. Powerful! Amen! I want to invite any of you folks in the back to approach the altar here and receive the Lord into your hearts. Just come on up. We’ve got brothers and sisters up here who can lead you through the Sinner’s Prayer. Amen! And as this Council of Nicea comes to an end, I want to remind Brother Eusebius to bring the grape juice for tomorrow’s closing communion service . . .”
Ah yes, the Baptists at the Council of Nicea. Sound rather silly? It certainly does. And yet, there are those who claim the Church of Nicea was more Protestant in belief and practice than Catholic. I recently read an article in The Christian Research Journal, written by a Reformed Baptist apologist, who argued this very point. No, I’m not making this up. The article, “What Really Happened at Nicea?” actually claimed the Fathers of the Council were essentially Evangelical Protestants.
As a trained patristics scholar, I always feel a great deal of sadness and frustration when I encounter shoddy historical “scholarship,” whether it be in the pages of The Watchtower, a digest of Mormon “archaeology,” or a popular and usually well-produced Evangelical Protestant apologetics journal. But this article was so error-laden, so amateurishly “researched,” and so filled with historical and theological fallacies, that I simply couldn’t let it stand without response.
All the classical Protestant confessions of faith expressing the beliefs of the various Reformation branches include the doctrinal proclamations of the ancient Catholic Council of Nicea, whereby Christ is professed to be “of one essence” with the Father. The original Lutheran Augsburg Confession of 1531, for example, and the later Formula of Concord of 1576-1584, each begin with the mention of the doctrine of the Nicene Council.
Calvin’s French Confession of Faith of 1559 states, “And we confess that which has been established by the ancient councils, and we detest all sects and heresies which were rejected by the holy doctors, such as St. Hilary, St. Athanasius, St. Ambrose and St. Cyril.” The Scotch Confession of 1560 deals with general councils in its 20th chapter. The Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, both the original of 1562-1571 and the American version of 1801, explicitly accept the Nicene Creed in article 7.
Even when the particular Protestant confessional formula does not mention the Nicene Council or its creed, its doctrine is nonetheless always asserted, as, for example, in the Calvinist Scotch Confession just mentioned, or in the Presbyterian Westminster Confession of 1647.
At first glance, this all seems rather odd to the Catholic reader. After all, every branch of Protestantism professes the absolute and sole sufficiency of Sacred Scripture for establishing the fundamental points of doctrine. Why, then, do these various Protestant confessions bother to bring up the early councils (or any councils) when establishing their core teachings? Well, we shouldn’t be too quick to accuse them of inconsistency just yet, for all of these confessions make it abundantly clear that the councils of the Church have no authority of their own, but only insofar as they teach things which have a clear warrant in the written Word of God. ………
For Steve Ray’s Article: The Trail of Blood, Baptist Successionism, visit http://www.catholicconvert.com/?s=trail+of+blood