Action Alert!

The MOST Theological Collection: An Introduction to Christian Philosophy

"Chapter V: The Teaching Church"


Browse by Title
New Search
Table of Contents for this Work

The fact that there was a "deposit of faith" to be transmitted is already clear in what is probably the first book of the New Testament to be written, in 1 Thessalonians 2.13: "We give thanks to God without ceasing, for when you heard and received the word of God from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but, as it really is, the word of God." Shortly after that, 2 Thessalonians 2.15 urges: "Then, brothers, stand firm, and hold the teaching you have learned, by word, or by our letter." Second Timothy 1.13-14 says: "Hold to the form of sound teaching which you have heard from me.... Guard the good deposit through the Holy Spirit who dwells in you." Provision for oral transmission is clear in 2 Timothy 2.2: "The things you have heard from me through many witness, entrust to trustworthy men, who will be able in turn to teach others."

When the earthquake broke open the jail at Philippi (Acts 16.25-34) the jailer asked: "What must I do to be saved?" Paul answered: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, and all your household." (Not much of an RCIA!) Paul baptized the family at once. Similarly in Acts 8.26-38 Philip gave an instruction to the official of Queen Candace in rather short time, beginning with the passion prophecy of Isaiah 53, and then the convert said: "Look, here is some water, what prevents me from being baptized?' So Philip did baptize him at once.

We must comment on that word "saved". It never has in Scripture the meaning used by foolish sect members who ask: "Brother are you saved?" They mean: Have you taken Jesus as your Personal Savior, so you can be infallibly saved, no matter how much you have sinned, are sinning, and going to sin in the future, as Luther made clear in his Epistle 501 to Melanchthon: "Even if you sin greatly, believe still more greatly." Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. In its article on salvation, does not even mention so foolish a notion. Rather, the word "save" has three senses in Scripture: (1) Rescue from dangers in this life (cf.Mt.8.25); (2)Entry into the Church: e.g., Romans 11.14. Paul knows that anyone could be saved without formally entering into the Church (Rom 2.14-16). So this must mean entry into the Church. This become seven clearer in Romans 10.9-10:"If you with your mouth confess the Lord Jesus [i.e., that Jesus is Lord, is divine] and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For by the heart one believes [leading to] justification; with the mouth one confesses [makes a profession of faith] leading to salvation [entry into the Church." (3)Final entry into heaven: e.g., 1 Cor 3.15.

Rufinus in his commentary on the Apostles' Creed, at the end of the 4th century gives a charming story (PL.21.337). Before the Apostles dispersed they agreed on a creed. In the 6th century we even meet with the tale that each of the Apostles composed one of the twelve articles (PL 39.2189-90). We can be sure that the content of the Creed goes back to the apostolic age. Hippolytus in the Apostolic Tradition gives us this creed (DS 10): "I believe in God the Father almighty, and in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was born of the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary, and was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and died and was buried, and rose on the third day alive from the dead, and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father. He will come to judge the living and the dead. And I believe in the Holy Spirit and the holy Church, and the resurrection of the dead ."

Tertullian at the end of the second century was already familiar with this early Roman creed, and it probably goes back much farther. All the doctrinal elements that are found in the Apostles' Creed appear already near the end of the first century in the varied and numerous formulas of faith to be found in early Christian literature.

St. Justin the Martyr in his First Apology 61 says that in his day, those who were convinced of the truth of Christianity and pledged themselves to live by it were taught in prayer and fasting to ask God for forgiveness. The others would pray and fast with them. Then they would go to a place where there was water, and were baptized. So there must have been some sort of instruction then, but we do not know the details. (Cfr. J. Daniélou, Gospel Message and Hellenistic Culture , tr. J. A. Baker, Philadelphia, Westminster, 1973,pp.157-94).

By the end of the second century, the catechumenate seems to have been well organized. Tertullian charges heretics with disregarding it: "It is [with the heretics] unclear who is the catechumen, and who is the faithful. Both come, both hear, both pray." He adds that catechumens among the heretics are initiated before being instructed (De praescriptione 41). Christianity had spread extensively by the day of Tertullian, who boasts in his Apologeticum 37: "We came just yesterday, but we have filled the world and everything: the cities, islands, fortresses, towns, marketplaces, the very army camps.... We leave nothing to you [pagans] but the temples of your gods." He adds that if they wanted to band together, they could easily overcome the pagans, for the Christians fill every place.

We are fortunate in having also complete texts for final instructions by St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Catecheses, given during Holy Week of 350 A.D. to those who were to be baptized on Holy Saturday. There are also 5 more instructions, given to the newly baptized in the week after Easter. These last five are thought to be by someone other than Cyril, probably John, his successor. We have these since they were taken down in shorthand by a listener.

Interestingly, St. Cyril still seems to be observing the ancient Disciplina arcani, the secrecy about some major doctrines. In the second century, there ere three kinds of popular charges against Christians: atheism [not worshipping the gods of the state], sex orgies, and cannibalism. The last was of course based on garbled reports of the Eucharist. Tertullian in his Apologeticum 2 ridicules this charge saying: "What a glory it would be for a governor who had found someone who had already eaten a hundred infants!"

To return to St. Cyril, he tells those who are soon to be baptized that if some catechumen, who is not yet to be baptized, tries to get out of them what was said inside: "Tell nothing, for he is outside the mystery we have revealed to you... Do not let anyone convince you saying: "What harm is there is I should know too?" Of course, there would be a good psychological reason for the continuation of the old discipline: by making things secret, he increased the appetite of the listeners.

By the time of St. Augustine, the catechumenate was very thoroughly organized, as we can learn from his major work De catechizandis rudibus. The "rudes" were those merely seeking admission to the catechumenate.