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All Articles For Contending for the Faith

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The Donatist controversy, we noticed in our preceding article, was, according to the eminent church historian, Philip Schaff, a conflict between complete separation and Catholicism. The Donatists started from an ideal and spiritualistic conception of the visible church in the midst of the world. The church must be a fellowship of perfect saints. This also determined their conception of the sacraments. Unholy priests cannot administer the sacraments. That which is holy cannot be imparted by unholy men.

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Continuing with our quotation from Cyprian, who contended, as did Tertullian, that the baptism by heretics was not valid, we quote the following: “But again some of our colleagues would rather give honor to heretics than agree with us; and while by the assertion of one baptism they are unwilling to baptize those that come, they thus either themselves make two baptisms in saying that there is a baptism among heretics; or certainly, which is a matter of more importance, they strive to set before and prefer the sordid and profane washing of heretics to the true and only and...

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While Peter himself passes over his prerogative in silence, and expressly warns against hierarchical assumption, Leo cannot speak frequently and emphatically enough of his authority. While Peter in Antioch meekly submits to the rebuke of the junior apostle Paul (see Gal. 2:11), Leo pronounces resistance to his authority to be impious pride and the sure way to hell. Obedience to the pope is thus necessary to salvation.

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We concluded our preceding, article with the question whether our rejection of the error of Rationalism also implies that our faith must therefore be regarded as irrational and unreasonable. And then we wish to remark in the first place that it is not a question now at this time of “defective logic or reason.” Many of our readers undoubtedly know that our Protestant Reformed Churches have been accused of rationalism in our approach to and interpretation of the Scriptures.

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We noted toward the end of our preceding article that Augustine surely advocated church discipline but was not in sympathy with the Donatist movement. He lamented the fact that the Donatists had separated themselves, not only from those who had been justly accused of being traitors to their faith during the persecutions, but also from those who had been unjustly accused and that they had therefore separated themselves from the good and faithful in all the nations of the world.

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Finally, in regard to the four great ecumenical councils, the first of NICE, the first of CONSTANTINOPLE, that of EPHESUS, and that of CHALCEDON: we have already presented their position on this question in connection with their legislation on the patriarchal system. We have seen that they accord to the bishop of Rome a precedence of honor among the five officially coequal patriarchs, and thus acknowledge him primas inter pares, but, by that very concession, disallow his claims to supremacy of jurisdiction, and to monarchical authority over the entire church.

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During the chaotic confusion under the Carolingians (the Carolingians are known in Church History as or pertaining to the dynasty or family of Charlemagne who was emperor during the early part of the ninth century—H.V.), in the middle of the ninth century, a mysterious book made its appearance, which gave legal expression to the popular opinion of the papacy, raised and strengthened its power more than any other agency, and forms to a large extent the basis of the canon law of the church of Rome.

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In our preceding article we were criticizing that form bf Rationalism which admits that the Scriptures do contain a supernatural revelation. This type of Rationalism, however, believes the things that are in the Word of God only if and when he is able to comprehend and understand them. In our appraisal of this form of Rationalism we observed, in the first place, that it is not speaking the truth when it declares to believe only that which it is able to understand. And our second observation concerned the written Word of God, the Scriptures.

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We concluded our preceding article with the remark that we would call attention in this article to the historical background for the conflict between Augustine and the Donatists. We must do this as a prelude to the role which Augustine later played in this important drama. And, as we observed in our preceding article, we are again indebted, also for this material, to Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church. 

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