Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Church Fathers and Counting Numbers

Wilhelm Loehe shows how contemporary the Church Fathers seemed in his time and ours. As evidence, consider this passage found in James Schaaf’s translation of Loehe’s Drei Bücher von der Kirche (Three Books About the Church; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969), 128-130.

Gregory of Nanzianzen speaks eloquently about the number of those in the church: “Where are they who reproach us with our poverty and boast themselves of their own riches; who define the church by numbers and scorn the little flock; and who measure the Godhead and weigh the people in the balance, who honour the sand and despise the luminaries of heaven; who treasure pebbles and overlook pearls . . . ? These men have the houses, but we the Dweller in the house; they the Temples, we the God; and besides, it is ours to be the living temples of the living God, lively sacrifices, reasonable burnt-offerings, perfect sacrifices. . . . They have the people, we the Angels; they rash boldness, we faith; they threatenings, we prayer . . . ; they gold and silver, we the pure word.”

Chrysostom says the same thing in his sermon: “Which is better, to have much hay or to have a few gems? The true majority does not rest upon numbers but upon values. Elijah was alone, but the whole world could not outweigh him.”

Augustine says, “If you want to be just, do not count but weigh. Bring a trustworthy scale so that you may be called a righteous man. Of you it is written, ‘The righteous shall see and fear’ [Ps. 52:6]. Therefore, do not count the host of men who wander on the broad ways, who in the morning gather themselves together and celebrate with a loud tumult in the city, setting the city in confusion with their bad behavior. Pay no attention to them. They are many, but who counts them? There are fewer who travel the narrow way. Bring the scale, I tell you, and weigh them. See how much chaff there is to the few grains of wheat.”

Arnobius writes, “For neither is truth unable to stand without supporters, nor will the fact that the Christian religion has found many to agree with it and has gained weight from human approval prove it true. It is satisfied to rest its case upon its own strength and upon the basis of its own truth. It is not despoiled of its force though it have no defender, no, not even if every tongue oppose it and struggle against it and, united in hatred, conspire to destroy faith in it.”

Tertullian feels it is easier to go astray in a great crowd than to love and hold fast to the truth with a few. Jerome says clearly to a Pelagian, “Your numerous supporters will never prove you to be a catholic, but will show that you are a heretic.”

After all, it is so simple, and the matter is so clear. How futile is the noise of the multitude and the noise about the multitude blinding only the blind! Our opponents themselves, if they wished to be honest, would agree with us that the church is to be recognized by its Word, not by its numbers; under other circumstances, they themselves would use these ancient proofs. The truth is truth, even when it is completely alone in the world. It was what it now is even before the foundation of the world, and it will still be the same when we have passed into dust. What of the multitude? Only that which is apostolic is catholic, and those who hold to what is apostolic belong to the catholic church and can claim for their communion that noble name against all impure denominations.

1 comment:

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

How true!

Thanks for this.