“As an evangelical, I discovered while I was at Wheaton College that it was possible to dismiss the entire church as having gone off the rails by about 95 A.D. That is, we (evangelicals) with our open bibles knew better than old Ignatius or Polycarp or Clement who had been taught by the apostles themselves…We knew better than they just what the church is and what it should look like. Never mind that our worship services would have been unrecognizable to them, or that our church government would have been equally
unrecognizable, or that the vocabulary in which we spoke of the Christian life would have been equally unrecognizable. We were right and the Fathers were wrong–that settled the matter.
The trouble for me here was that what these wrong-headed men wrote
about God, about our Lord Jesus Christ, about His Church, about the Christians
walk and warfare…what they wrote was so titanic and so rich and so luminous
that their error seemed infinitely truer and more glorious than my truth. I
gradually felt that it was I, not they, who was under surveillance. The
glorious company of the apostles, the noble army of martyrs and the holy
Church throughout the world, to quote the ancient hymn, the Te Deum, judge me, not I
Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement, Justin, Irenaeus, Cyprian, Cyril, Basil, the Gregorys, Augustine, Ambrose, Benedict…it is under the gaze of this senate that I find myself standing. Alas, how tawdry, how odious, how flimsy, how embarrassing seemed the arguments that I had been prepared so gaily to put forward against the crushing radiance of these men’s confession.
The church is here, in all its antiquity, judging me.” -Thomas Howard