It is the customary fate of new truths
to begin as heresies and to end as superstitions.
T. H. Huxley (1825-1895 ), Collected
Essays xii, "The Coming of Age of the Origin of
It is increasingly difficult to maintain that any Christian
authority enjoys infallibility. We have seen that the Old Testament
is unreliable. The New Testament contains no material that purports
to have been authorised by Jesus, or that dates from his lifetime,
or that was even written in the everyday language of his milieu.
The earliest material is from generations later. We know that
much bogus material was added, and it not always possible to
distinguish it from the rest.
There was a distinct lack of agreement between the early Churches,
and between the Church Fathers, as to what should be included
in the canon of scripture. We know also that valid material
was suppressed. The Western Church took about 600 years to settle
its canon, although arguments broke out again when Protestant
scholars looked into matters again 900 years later. At about
this time the Eastern Churches finally managed to settle their
version of the New Testament, although it was still not accepted
by all. In fact, full agreement between the Orthodox Churches
has not been achieved to this day.
Meanwhile, biblical scholars have shown up flaws in the texts
and in attributions, identified editorial tampering, and have
shown that valid material has been excluded. Known texts all
disagree with each other, and many of the disagreements reveal
the hands of people editing the text for their own ends. So
do translated texts, even those acclaimed as "infallible".
We have looked at other sources of authority in various Churches
and at various times. All of the ones we have looked at have
been found to be flawed. The fact is that there is no clear
reliable authority in the Christian Church, or any of its many
branches. Orthodoxy has developed according to the tastes of
the dominant factions of the moment. Arguments employed to establish
authority and orthodoxy are all circular. Sources are hailed
as Authorities if they support the views currently in favour.
Then these same authorities are quoted to prove the orthodoxy
of those views. Orthodoxy was not so much determined by the
New Testament. The books of the New Testament were chosen and
edited to match the dominant line of orthodoxy. Again, orthodoxy
was not confirmed by a band of elect men called the Church Fathers.
Men were called Church Fathers because their views differed
least from later orthodoxy. Yet again, orthodoxy was not defined
by ecumenical councils. Councils were acclaimed as ecumenical
because they supported later orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy is thus self-sustaining. Sources that contradict
it are simply edited out. Inconvenient gospels are omitted from
the canon of the Bible, and labelled apocryphal. Inconvenient
early Christian writers are labelled heretics. Inconvenient
ecumenical councils are discovered not to have been infallible
ecumenical councils after all, merely fraudulent shams promoted
by heretics. Inconvenient bishops of Rome have their names removed
retrospectively from the list of infallible popes. Despite this
selectivity, coherence is still difficult to come by. The gospels
contradict each other. Infallible Christian emperors contradict
each other. The Church Fathers contradict each other. Ecumenical
councils contradict each other. Infallible popes contradict
each other, and of course each of the five possible sources
(gospels, emperors, Fathers, councils and popes) also contradict
each of the other four on numerous points.
Different denominations attempt to minimise the problem in
different ways: forget the emperors, ignore the popes, listen
to different Fathers, believe only selected gospels, abandon
them all in favour of direct personal revelation from God, and
so on. To objective outsiders, the hand of God is difficult
to discern anywhere in it.
To many outsiders the whole area of authority in Christian
teachings looks more than a little suspicious. Why have the
earliest Christian writings all been lost? Why have later writings
all been tampered with? Why did the Western Church insist for
so long that laymen should not own or read bibles? One might
have expected the Roman Church to have published at least a
summary of all infallible statements made by the popes over
the centuries. Yet no such thing exists. No one knows which
statements the Church regards as infallible and which it doesn"t,
because no authoritative list has ever been published. Indeed,
there is not even a definitive list of previous popes, so no
one can work it out.
Why has there been no attempt to identify and collect together
so-called apostolic traditions? Why is it impossible to find
unexpurgated versions of what the Church Fathers wrote, or indeed
even to obtain a full list of recognised Church Fathers? Why
are many of the most influential authorities in early Christianity
now regarded as heretics? Why can the Churches not agree about
which Church Councils were ecumenical and therefore infallible,
and why is it so difficult to obtain translations of exactly
what these councils decreed? Original definitions of orthodoxy
propounded by these divinely-inspired infallible councils ought
to be best sellers amongst Christians worldwide, yet only brief
extracts are ever made available to the mass of believers
precisely those extracts that match modern orthodoxy.
If God was as keen to reveal his eternal Truth, as many Christians
claim, it seems odd that he should reveal so many different
and inconsistent versions to so many different people, and equally
odd that his revelations are so imprecise, and so unpalatable
that they have to be carefully selected for consumption by the