The Truth behind Catholic Answers Early Church Quotes: Papias on Apostolic Tradition

October 28, 2009

The following is a first in a series of posts aimed at exposing the severe lack of credibility at one of Catholicism’s most popular apologetics websites, Catholic Answers. Over the years I have been inundated with quotes taken from Catholic Answers and used by Catholics as proof that the early church taught and believed all the “Sacred Traditions” of the Catholic Church. What I have found from reading those quotes over the years is that they are highly selective, unfairly edited, and deliberately misleading. If there is one admirable thing I can say about Catholic Answers it is that they provide references, which makes their culpability for fairness equally shared with those readers who fail to validate their claims. To understand what I am talking about, I am going to begin this series by examining a single quote from Papias, the first and oldest reference that appears on Catholic Answers in defense of “Apostolic Tradition.”

The early church quote from which Papias’ is the first, are prefaced by this following statement on the (Catholic Answers Apostolic Tradition page:

“The early Church Fathers, who were links in that chain of succession, recognized the necessity of the traditions that had been handed down from the apostles and guarded them scrupulously, as the following quotations show.”

The Papias quote is taken from Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History and appears on the Catholic Answers website as follows:

“Papias [A.D. 120], who is now mentioned by us, affirms that he received the sayings of the apostles from those who accompanied them, and he, moreover, asserts that he heard in person Aristion and the presbyter John. Accordingly, he mentions them frequently by name, and in his writings gives their traditions [concerning Jesus]. . . . [There are] other passages of his in which he relates some miraculous deeds, stating that he acquired the knowledge of them from tradition” (fragment in Eusebius, Church History 3:39 [A.D. 312]).” Catholic Answers; Apostolic Tradition) (Emphasis mine)

Now read the same quote from Ecclesiastical History:

“And Papias, of whom we are now speaking, confesses that he received the words of the apostles from those that followed them, but says that he was himself a hearer of Aristion and the presbyter John. At least he mentions them frequently by name, and gives their traditions in his writings. These things we hope, have not been uselessly adduced by us.
But it is fitting to subjoin to the words of Papias which have been quoted, other passages from his works in which he relates some other wonderful events which he claims to have received from tradition.”

Where Eusebius says Papius mentions Aristion and John by name, and gives their traditions in writings, Catholic Answers inserted “concerning Jesus.” Eusebius didn’t say or even imply that the traditions Papias recorded were from Jesus,” something Catholic Answers dubiously added. By doing that, they created the premise that Papius’ writings revealed unwritten teachings of Christ.

The only thing one can ascertain from the quote is that Papias recorded some sort of tradition dating back to apostolic times. But what that tradition is Catholic Answers does not say. So it’s up to the reader to find out.

When read in context from Ecclesiastical History, one can see that Eusebius never mentions any so-called Sacred Tradition. He does, however, talk about a particular belief that Papias claims came from unwritten tradition. This is found in paragraphs 11-13.

11 The same writer [Papius] gives also other accounts which he says came to him through unwritten tradition, certain strange parables and teachings of the Savior, and some other more mythical things.

12 To these belong his statement that there will be a period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this very earth. I suppose he got these ideas through a misunderstanding of the apostolic accounts, not perceiving that the things said by them were spoken mystically in figures.

13 For he appears to have been of very limited understanding, as one can see from his discourses. But it was due to him that so many of the Church Fathers after him adopted a like opinion, urging in their own support the antiquity of the man; as for instance Iranaeus and any one else that may have proclaimed similar views.”

Papius claims to have received unwritten tradition from Aristion and John that proclaims a 1000-year reign of Christ on Earth after the resurrection. But Catholic doctrine expressly rejects this view. Even on Catholic Answers own website one can find the evidence that they disagree with Papius:

“As far as the millennium goes, we tend to agree with Augustine and, derivatively, with the amillennialists. The Catholic position has thus historically been ‘amillennial‘” (Catholic Answers; The Rapture)

The apostolic tradition Papias actually recorded, according to Eusebius, contradicts Catholic teaching, yet Catholic Answers passes it off as support for Catholic tradition. I wonder how many times people have pulled this quote from Catholic Answers to defend Catholic Tradition in discussions on forums, blogs, and emails, not knowing that it actually supports doctrine they oppose?

In light of Papias’ support of millennialism, let me once again share Catholic Answers preface to his quote:

“The early Church Fathers, who were links in that chain of succession, recognized the necessity of the traditions that had been handed down from the apostles and guarded them scrupulously, as the following quotations show.”

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