Why Rome? That's the question Dr. Taylor Marshall focuses on in his newest book, titled The Eternal City: Rome & the Origins of Catholic Christianity (Saint John Press, 2012.)
Even to someone reading the New Testament for the first time, it's evident that most major events take place in Jerusalem. The city was home to the great Temple, the hub of Jewish life and worship. Jerusalem was also where Jesus died and rose from the dead, making it the holiest site for Christians.
So then why did Rome, not Jerusalem, quickly emerge as the center of Christianity? Was it simply a coincidence or is there some deeper significance? Did Christ intentionally choose Rome as the home-base for his Church?
Taylor recently sat down with me to discuss these questions and more, including whether Paul was a Catholic, why the Church fathers remain relevant, and his favorite books on the origins of Catholicism.
Watch or download our interview below:
1:16 - How is Judaism key to understanding Catholicism?
2:33 - What signs point you to St. Paul's Catholic identity?
4:57 - What clues show that St. Paul was a Catholic priest?
6:11 - Why is the city of Rome so important to Catholicism?
9:46 - What draws you to blog about the Church Fathers?
11:58 - What books would you recommend on the origins of Catholicism?
Q: What signs point you to St. Paul's Catholic identity?
I remember the first time I read the Canons of the Council of Trent [and saw] how often Paul was cited. I thought, it's so strange that the Protestants, Luther and Calvin, all claimed Paul as their own. And then here in the Council of Trent, the Fathers of the Council quote Paul back to them.
As a Protestant I studied a lot [of material] from a theologian named N.T. Wright and he was making arguments that the Protestant consensus was not exactly airtight when it comes to the Bible. He was showing passages where the righteousness of Christ wasn't just imputed, it was infused. Of course this sounds a lot like the Council of Trent and raised a lot of questions.
So I went on a quest where I went through almost every major Catholic topic and looked at what Paul says, not only [about] salvation, but the sacraments, the Eucharist, matrimony, holy orders, priestly celibacy, monasticism, and even sexual issues such as homosexuality, divorce, contraception, and abortion. And I showed that on every single point St. Paul agrees with the Catholic Church.
Taylor's Recommended Books
Here are the three books Taylor recommends at the end of our interview:
- The Apostolic Fathers (Baker Academic, 2007)
- Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words by Rod Bennett
- The Russian Church And The Papacy by Vladimir Soloviev (only $2 at Catholic.com!!)
Be sure to follow Taylor's blog, Canterbury Tales and follow him on Facebook and Twitter. And pick up a copy of Taylor's newest book, Dr. Taylor Marshall focuses on in his newest book, titled The Eternal City: Rome & the Origins of Catholic Christianity:
What are your favorite books on Church history?
John Piper is maybe the most revered teacher in the Reformed Protestant tradition. He's been a a pillar of the Protestant community for decades and his most famous book, Desiring God, has sold millions of copies. Even as a Catholic I admire Piper's sharp intellect and his ravenous love for Scripture, both of which put mine to shame.
But with all of Piper's intelligence, prestige and gifting, I was shocked to see an article on his blog titled, Don't Equate 'Historically Early' with 'Theologically Accurate'.
In the article, he argues that we moderns, with our personal New Testaments, are more orthodox than those in the early Church.
Here's more from the post:
"Neither the experiences nor the teachers of the first 300 years of the church are as reliable as the finished New Testament. The church did not rescue the New Testament from neglect and abuse. The New Testament rescued the early church from instability and error.
We are in a better position today to know Jesus Christ than anyone who lived from AD 100 to 300."
Now before I go on, I want to again affirm that I don't mean to bash John Piper, just this idea that he's proposed to thousands of readers. Piper's a wise and holy man who is just making a silly suggestion. I make plenty of silly suggestions myself.
However, silly suggestions are still silly regardless of who proposes them. So what follows is a list of rebuttals not to John Piper but to his curious argument:
First, the Catholic Church authored, compiled, and transmitted the Bible. Every New Testament author was Catholic, along with every other Christian throughout the first 1,500 years after the Ascension. And the Catholic Church was the authority who decided which books actually made up the official collection of Scripture.
You can't reject the early Catholic Church without also rejecting the Bible we now have.
Consider a similar situation. In a courtroom, a witness's testimony is only as reliable as his character. If he is not trustworthy, then everything he says is irrelevant. In just the same way, the New Testament is only as reliable as the authority who put it together. If you don't trust the Church who compiled the New Testament, you can't trust the content of the New Testament itself.
Second, if you reject the "experiences and teachers" of the first 300 years of the Church, you essentially reject the New Testament. For the New Testament is, outside the Gospels, the "experience and teaching" of the early Church.
The book of Acts chronicles Paul, Peter, and the early Christians wrestling with the implications of Jesus' teachings. Most of the New Testament letters were written by "teachers" to first-century communities struggling through similar issues. So as a whole, the New Testament contains precisely the things Piper claims to reject.
Third, no book, including the Bible, can rescue anyone or anything from "instability and error." A book is dead--dead tress, in fact. It's inaudible, inanimate, and immovable. The Word of God as contained in Scripture needs to be accurately explained and understood for its power to come alive (see the story of the Ethiopan eunuch as an example.) The Bible always requires a person--and, as Catholics believe, a Church--to interpret and transmit it.
The early Christians were overwhelmed with instability and error primarily because of competing interpretations of Scripture. Like today, the New Testament alone couldn't solve their problems--in fact, in a weird way, it was the source of many disputes.
These first Christians needed someone to stand outside of Scripture and act as an arbiter, and as we see in Matthew and Acts, that person was Peter--the Pope, Christ's mouthpiece in the Church. The only force that prevented mass schism and separation was this God-ordained Church, the pillar and ground of truth (1 Tim. 3:15).
Now don't get me wrong. I don't want to idealize early Christians as having it all together. It's clear that the Church has grown, developed, and bloomed since her birth. But I do think in her infancy she had plenty of advantages over us moderns, most obviously her close proximity to the people and events of Jesus' life.
Piper, a fellow admirer of C.S. Lewis, should be wary of the "chronological snobbery" he so often discouraged. Just because we have twenty centuries more than early Christians doesn't mean we are more enlightened, more wise, more holy, more developed, or more orthodox. History doesn't always progress forward, socially or theologically.
In the end, though, the teachings and experiences of the early Church don't compete with Scripture anyways. They fit together like two wings on the same bird or two streams from the same fountain. Neither is better, but likewise neither should be rejected.
(In addition to the Graham book I mentioned above, I also recommend Cardinal John Henry Newman's classic An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine. Newman deftly explains how the Church has grown, yet remained the same, comparing it to a great tree blooming from a tiny seed. You can find it the paperback on Amazon or read the eBook or online text for free.)
Hilaire Belloc –historian, poet, and apologist extraordinaire—died as one of the twentieth century's premier writers. With his encyclopedic knowledge of European history, Belloc emerged as an expert in Christian antiquity. In “The Great Heresies” (TAN books, paperback, 151 pages), his greatest book, according to many—Belloc focuses his wisdom on the five greatest threats to the Christian Faith over the past two thousand years.
Belloc's book begins by defining a heresy as a single distortion of a complete scheme; a heresy always involves the twisting of one legitimate doctrine while maintaining all the rest. Before diving into the individual heresies, he begins with an exploration of heresy's general operation and effects. This introduction sets the stage for a wild romp through heretical history.
The first great heresy Belloc discusses is "Arianism", which was a rejection of Jesus’ divinity. Belloc explores the social and political factors that launched Arianism’s popularity before introducing St. Athanasius as its ultimate conqueror. This initial controversy paved the way for all future disputes.
Belloc then moves to the “heresy of Mohammed”, what we today know as "Islam". This chapter features one of the most interesting parts of the book, where Belloc shows Islam to be, in fact, a Christian heresy--not a unique, competing religion. The teachings of Mohammed were not originally a “new faith”, but a distortion of orthodox Christianity. Like "Arianism", "the heresy of Mohammed" spread not through reason, but primarily through military force, political greed, and social upheaval.
Belloc introduces the "Albigensian" heresy next, which was partly a reaction to the earlier "Arian" heresy. Albigensianism was a rejection of the material—of Jesus’ humanity, of our bodies, and ultimately of the sacraments. In its dualistic worldview, the "Albigensian" heresy considered these "non-spiritual" elements to be evil. Belloc points to modern Puritanism as the older brother of Albigensianism.
After the "Albigensianism", Belloc notes a shift in the nature of heresy. While the first three great heresies tried to supplant or rival the Catholic Church, the next great heresy, "Protestantism", sought to completely dissolve the historical Catholic Church. Belloc spends the most pages on "Protestantism", probing its many causes and characters. While Belloc writes prophetically in the rest of the book, the end of this chapter displays his one clear error. Belloc proposes that Protestantism will die within a small handful of years, a prediction that has not yet been fulfilled.
The last chapter covers what Belloc calls the “Modern Attack”, what we might call "modernism". He sees this as the last of the great heresies as, according to Belloc, all future heresies will be some mix of these earlier five. The “Modern Attack”—or “Anti-Christ Attack” as Belloc sometimes describes it, is different than the others because it seeks not just to destroy the Catholic Church, but Faith in general.
This heresy compiles all anti-Faith philosophies—Communism, materialism, scientism, etc. Ultimately, Belloc sees this “Modern Attack” confronting the Catholic Church in a battle to the death. One of the two philosophies will prevail, and the victory will come sooner than later. This chapter is Belloc's most prophetic. Writing in 1938, he predicts events occurring decades after his death: the rise and fall of communism, the prominence of atheism, and the rise of hatred for the Church. Yet still, he sees the Church prevailing in the end.
Finishing Belloc's book yields not just an understanding of the past, but a comprehension of the present. Echoes of the great historical heresies are found in every modern challenge to the Faith. To understand the great attacks on Christianity, or to untangle the “ism”s of Church history, pick up this classic.
Here is a letter from St. Justin Martyr in 155 A.D. describing the weekly Christian liturgy of the Early Church. Anyone familiar with the modern Catholic Mass--and therefore the Eucharist--will immediately recognize its roots in these words: