On Misusing the Holy Fathers

Pope St. Martin the Confessor ca. 590-655

They who make war on the spiritual Jerusalem, namely the Catholic Church, imitate those who made war on the earthly Jerusalem, and endeavor — they too — misuse the teachings of the Fathers. Just as Rabshekah once misused their ancestral tongue against the people of Judah in order to make his murderousness hard to detect (2 Kgs. 18:26-35, Isa. 36:11-20) so likewise do they with their false beliefs; for this they do with malicious intent, not to honor the Fathers but to deceive the more simple, just as he did with the people of Judah. But, says the Lord, ‘you shall know them by their fruits, for they are like plastered sepulchers, which from the outside appear beautiful to men’ — just as heretics do who use the statements of the Fathers as a disguise — but inside are full of [dead men’s] bones and all uncleanness’ (Mt. 7:16, 23;37), I mean dead and fetid doctrines. For ‘they adduce terms not in their plain sense,’ as the Great Cyril testifies, ‘but with a certain deceit and malice.’ (Ep. 46, Second Letter to Succensus) Noting this well, we ourselves ought to be in no fear of reproach by men nor be cowed by their contempt, since this is what the Lord Himself enjoins on us, saying through the Prophet Isaiah, ‘Hearken to me, you who know judgment, my people in whose heart is my law: fear not the reproach of men and not be cowed by their disdain.’ (Isa. 51:7) For with His fullness of wisdom the Lord exposes them and ‘hunts’ them down through you, his ‘hunters’ dear to God, according to the statement in Jeremiah, ‘And after this I shall send many hunters, and they shall hunt them on every mountain and on every hill and from the clefts of the rocks, because my eyes are on all their ways.’ (Jer. 16:16-17) The ‘clefts of the rocks’ are perhaps the more arcane statements of the Holy Fathers about Christ; for heretics used them to contrive a deceitful dishes for themselves, so as to appear adept rather than abject in the sight of God — to the less instructed, but not to you who are perfected in regard to God. (Acts of the Lateran Synod of 649, Third Session: 142)