In Your Face!
Thank you so much for writing our humble museum. The reason that this museum hasn't addressed issues like the inaccurate timeline in many of the comic tracts, Crusaders Comics, etc. is that this museum is more of an appreciation of the artwork, pop theology, and conspiracy theories woven into the comics. The comics are pop theology, pure and simple (maybe just a little too simple!). Being a Comparative Religion major way back in the university, I've studied scholarly sources for church history, and find that some of Chick's points are accurate insofar as some of the personalities, when they lived, and the geography are concerned. For example, the "Sabatage" Crusaders volume 11 is accurate in depicting two separate Christian schools: one in Antioch, and the other in Alexandria. However, where I believe the tracts and comics are totally off base would include the MOTIVE and ACTIONS of persons he mentions, such as Origen whom he attributes as the one who removed I John 5:7 (the Johannine Comma) from the Bible. The comic doesn't prove this point at all, and no scholarly source exists whatsoever to prove this. In fact, such a verse would support Roman Catholic theology since the Roman Catholic church affirms the Trinity and always has. Luther's friend and Roman Catholic scholar Erasmus was forced by the Roman Catholic church to include it in his translation of the New Testament. No effort by Roman Catholic scholars in history has ever been undertaken to remove or downplay verses in the New Testament that support the deity of Jesus Christ, a doctrine that Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant scholars have historically accepted. In fact, modern Protestants (whose ancestors were the "Sola Scriptura" believing Reformers) are more likely to deny the deity of Christ and virgin birth than Roman Catholic theologians. Ironically, it is Roman Catholics who are more Biblically based than the overwhelming majority of Protestant denominations who have long ago stopped believing in the Bible.
Although its true that a complete canonized New Testament wasn't compiled in the Apostolic Age as you've indicated (and that the Crusaders Comic volume 16 "The Four Horsemen" implies), the Apostolic Fathers did quote extensively from the books that later would make up the NT canon. Like other unclear doctrines, the Apostolic Fathers seemed to suggest that the writings of the later NT were "Scripture" and somehow holy and authorative, although certainly this is far from the Sola Scriptura doctrine of the 16th century. The so-called "Muratorian Canon" misnamed after a librarian who lived many centuries later, suggest that churches in the regions had begun seriously defining which books were divinely inspired vs. ones that were suspect. In comes close to resembling the later NT canon that all professing Christian communions (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) unanimously accept.
Today, there is a field within Biblical studies now called "canonical criticism" that attempts to understand how the canon was formed. According to Henry Chadwick, a prominent historian, he claims that the Christian church had engaged in circular reasoning on the canon and Apostolic doctrine. Certain traditional Apostolic doctrines were true because the Apostolic writings and Gospels taught it; the Apostolic writings and Gospels were true because the traditional Apostolic doctrines confirmed what was written in them.
As far as I'm studied, you are correct in pointing out that Emperor Constantine did not impose "Catholic" hiearchy, sacraments, etc. on Christianity while Christians went into hiding at all. In fact, it is a misnomer to call Christianity of Constantine's time "Roman Catholicism" simply because the Roman church oversaw Rome, while each city had its own bishops, etc. Most religious movements evolve out of simplicity, and Christianity was no exception. Undoubtedly, the church of the early first century recorded in Acts of the Apostles was indeed nonsacramental and nonhierarchical, simply because it usually takes a couple generations for reasoned theology to be articulated.
However, it is true that Christians existed apart from the later Roman Catholic church. Most forget that the Eastern Orthodox church (who deeply resent being accused of once being Roman Catholics who broke away from Rome) existed in their own identity, and did not defer to the bishop of Rome on all matters. The Orthodox considered the bishop of Rome first among equals (certainly NOT a Roman Catholic doctrine), and they did not consider Peter or his successors to be the head of the entire church. Incidentally, "catholic" only means universal, and later it took on the meaning of being exclusively "ROMAN Catholic" much to the consternation of some Orthodox bishops.
The theory that underground Christians existed apart from both the Roman Catholic church and Orthodox communions of the East and later evolved into Evangelical Fundamentalists is an old one. Jehovah's Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists hold to a similar theory of succession. The fact is that various groups that existed apart from the Roman and Orthodox churches (like the Paulicians of the 7th century and the Cathari of the 13th century) were more deviant in their theology than either Roman Catholics or Orthodox! These groups were gnostics who denied the physical incarnation of Christ, yet modern fundamentalists, Seventh Day Adventists, and even Jehovah's Witnesses count these people as their spiritual ancestors! However, it is true that Waldensians, Hussites, and the Lollards (who all existed long before the Reformation) were rightfully the theological ancestors of 16th century Reformation Protestants if not biological ancestors. Descendants of these groups still live in those regions of Europe to this day. Like the Reformers who came later, they saw abuses in Roman Catholic theology and practices. They were persecuted for daring to challenge Roman Catholicism in the West. Their efforts at Reform were not as successful as Luther's and Calvin's. The course of development (one unbroken chain of underground believers since Constantine whose descendents emerged during the Reformation) is inaccurate, but certainly Chick is right in saying that such pre-Reformers did exist apart from Roman Catholicism.
As for the evolution of the eucharistic adoration and bishop hiearchy, indeed there is evidence from the Seven Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch for the supremacy of the bishop. Justin Martyr (2nd century) also affirmed a proto-doctrine of the "Real Presence" in the eucharist. However, when I interviewed Dr. Robert Stacey, historian at the University of Washington in 1989, he affirmed what many modern fundamentalists would want to hear, namely, that the New Testament era Christians did not accept a "Real Presence" theory. Bishop hiearchy as such also did not exist quite yet, simply because these developments in theology would take at least a generation or two to evolve. Most religions begin in a "primitive" manner, with an experience and little well thought out theology. With the advent of a new generation, theology evolves into a sophisticated set of dogmas and practices. In the case of Christianity, it broke from Judaism (a well developed religion by Jesus' own time) and revolted against Judaism's sophisticated theology in favor of "simple" primitive religion. Alas, with the passing of a couple of generations, intellectual apologists emerged, charisma gave way to hiearchy, and a communal meal (the eucharist) gave way to a more superstitious and developed concept of encountering the physical Christ in food to nourish the soul. In fact, your citation to the Roman Catholic sacrament of penance as a development in the Middle Ages is a case in point. Religious movements evolve into more elaborate systems.
The Reformation itself was a movement to get Christianity back to the primitivism reflected in the New Testament. However, the traditions of the Reformation also evolved into elaborate hiearchies with traditions, scholars, and thought out theology. Almost any group that breaks from a developed, hiearchical established religion in time becomes what it sought to break away from! The Mormon church, modern Baptists (even Fundamentalists!), and Pentecostals are all proof of this. Each group revolted, sought to convince the large mainstream group to accept their reforms/ideas, and was primitive in its reasoning and practice. In a couple of generations, these groups are themselves in the mainstream that once eschewed them. Each group now has scholars, apologists, and universities. Out of these groups will arise reformers who will want to get the group "back to" the primitivism that the groups were founded upon. And the cycle continues....
One point that you mentioned needs some clarification. You stated that "It is an inarguable historical fact that theology expressed by Fundamentalist Evangelicals was created within the last two centuries." The theology of which you speak could only be the Dispensational Theology on the return of Christ and to a great extent, the Fundamentalist/Evangelical tendency to reject mystical views on sacraments. The basic theology of Fundamentalists (Evangelicals are really a separate group, and seldom today are "Fundamentalist" and "Evangelical" used together) is the SAME as both the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic theologies regarding:
1. the inspiration of Scripture (including the 27 New Testament canonical books); 2. The virginal conception of Jesus Christ; 3. The Diety of Christ; 4. The second coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead at the end of time; and 5. salvation through the atoning death of Christ. These five points were the so-called "Fundamentals" that launched the Fundamentalist movement around 1915. In fact, Fundamentalism was a revolt against MAINLINE PROTESTANTISM than it was against Roman Catholicism! It is the added theology (not subtracted) of Mariology, Sacramentalism, Sacerdotalism, and papal or patriarchal authority that is rejected among Fundamentalists and Evangelicals. It's true that Fundamentalists and Evangelicals have added theology of their own to counter what they perceive as abuses within the older established churches, such as "Sola Scriptura" and "Sola Fide" although Augustine taught soteriology (the doctrine of salvation) similarly to Protestants. Like the early catholic/orthodox communions that existed in Constantine's time and after, the modern Protestant groups were forced to establish doctrinal boundaries to counter what they viewed as heresy. The catholic/orthodox bishops indeed could point to their Apostolic Succession to validate that they were theological descendants of early Christians and the Apostles, but they were forced to define the Trinity, the humanity and deity of Christ, inter alia, because of what gnostic groups taught. These now "orthodox" doctrines were not clear either from apostolic tradition nor from the pre-canonical New Testament documents, so the bishops had to create vocabulary such as "hoimousious" and "circumneccession," to explain what they thought they believed. Likewise, a fixed NT canon became necessary when Marcion first had his own and his teachings contradicted the basic tradition of the bishops. Some doctrines arise because of a perceived necessity. This is where the work of doing Christian theology becomes strange: groups create doctrinal formulations to counter what they perceive as heresy, yet without the doctrinal formulations to begin with, how can the groups define what is heretical? Just like the canonizing of Scripture, it can be a circular exercise.
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