Review: Adrian Fortescue’s “The Early Papacy”

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The Early Papacy to the Synod of Chalcedon in 451

  • Paperback: 121 pages
  • Publisher: Ignatius Press; 4 edition (March 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1586171763
  • ISBN-13: 978-1586171766
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    Adrian Fortescue was a scholar of Theology and Patristics in the late 19th/early 20th Century. His other works include The Greek Fathers: Their Lives and Writings and The Ceremonies of the Roman Rite Explained. The Early Papacy seems to be a response to Anglicans who had voiced objections that the Papacy was a 5th Century invention. To answer these claims, Fortescue marshalls evidence for the Papacy from the first to the 5th Centuries, with the Council of Chalcedon as his cut-off date. He has four points that he hopes to prove from the Patristic evidence: 1) The Pope as Chief (ch 4), 2) The Pope’s universal jurisdiction (ch 5), 3) Communion with Rome is necessary (ch 6), and finally 4) Papal infallibility (ch 7).

    His opening chapters deal with defining how and why Catholics believe these claims today. He writes:

    We believe in a Church that exists and lives all days, even to the end of the world, guided by Christ, infallible in faith and morals as long as she exists. We have exactly the same confidence in the divine guidance of the Church in 1870 as in 451. To be obliged to hark back some fifteen hundred years, to judge for yourself, according to the measure of your scholarship, what the documents of that period imply, would be the end of any confidence in a living authority. (21-22)

    That is, to Fortescue, this is almost an unnecessary endeavor because the Church today has declared these things to be true. However, he believes that this is such an easy belief to prove from antiquity that it’s a worthwhile venture.

    I won’t go through all of his examples and ruin the fun of reading the book. The more fascinating things he addresses, if briefly, are Denis of Alexandria coming to Denis of Rome after being suspected of false doctrine (70), Athanasius’ appeal to Rome, the canons of the synod at Sardicia (c. 344, p 73), and so forth. Because the book is less than 150 pages, this is a very easy read and I’d certainly recommend it as an intro to Patristic thought on the papacy.

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