LEARNING FROM THE EXAMPLES OF THE EARLY SAINTS
Beginning from this morning we are in “graduate school” and the lessons are weighty. The first thing we need to mention is that today, in the twentieth century, if we want to know the Bible, we need to learn from the examples of the early saints. Many Bible scholars raised up by the Lord had a thorough understanding of the Bible. Their labor in studying the Bible may have greatly surpassed ours. By reading their books, we know that they labored much.
BEFORE AND AFTER THE COUNCIL OF NICAEA
Let us consider the church fathers before the Council of Nicaea. These were the Bible scholars prior to the time that the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as the state religion. In 324 A.D. Constantine gained sole possession of the Roman Empire. He was foresighted and very talented. At that time many of the peoples surrounding the Mediterranean Sea were under the rule of the Roman Empire. Because of the ease of transportation, Greek spontaneously became the popular language in the Mediterranean region, just as English is over much of the world today. The Roman highways along the Mediterranean Sea allowed traffic to flow smoothly between Europe and Asia. However, because the domain of the Roman Empire was so broad and because it had so many territories, most of the people remained isolated.
Among all the peoples of the Roman Empire, the most powerful group was the Christians. Yet even among them there was little oneness. The church fathers had much debate on the essential truths of the Bible, concentrating on two main subjects: the Triune God and the person of Christ. Because of their fierce debating, in 325 A.D. Constantine ordered all the Christian teachers to come to Nicaea for a council over which he presided. At that council many Bible scholars debated over previous writings. From that time until about 570 A.D., approximately 250 years, a number of councils were held, and some arguments concerning the truth were settled.
Today the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches believe not only the Bible but also various creeds. The creeds are the resolutions of all the councils. Of course, the creeds come from the Bible, but they are only a supplement to the Bible, at the most just something auxiliary. There is still quite a separation between the creeds and the Bible. It is very difficult to include all the sixty-six books in a creed. The creed which was the product of the Council of Nicaea only includes a part of the Bible; yet today many Protestants still recite the Nicene Creed in their worship. One group even has a slogan admonishing people to go back to the Council of Nicaea and to accept its resolution. Nevertheless, we cannot deny the fact that the church fathers did much in-depth study of the Bible prior to the Council of Nicaea. After the church fathers passed away, many Bible scholars who attended those councils also did much study.
THE DARK AGES
The medieval papacy was established in 590 A.D. Except for the Greek Orthodox church, all the churches became known as Roman churches. The highest bishop was the pope, meaning “old father,” or “the presiding one.” When the authority of the pope was fully established with the recognition of the churches, the Roman church became known as the Catholic church. At that time the Bible was locked up; the believers were not allowed to read the Bible. The pope was the sole arbiter. Under the pope were the cardinals, under the cardinals were the archbishops, and under the archbishops were the bishops, with all deferring to the pope. Whenever there was a question concerning the truth, there was no need and no room for debate. The question had to be brought to the Vatican. The pope and his archbishops would then study the issue and give a “holy decree,” which was the final decision. Thus the Bible was closed for ten centuries, from the end of the sixth century until the completion of the Reformation at the end of the sixteenth century. In Western history this period, which lasted a full one thousand years, is called the Dark Ages. Today, because of the influence of the Protestant churches, the Catholic church no longer controls the Bible as tightly as before, and many Catholics read the Bible. But the final interpretation of the truth is still decided for them by the pope.
(The Full Knowledge of the Word of God, Chapter 4, by Witness Lee)