Was the Early Church Protestant?

In the Protestant world, many anti-Catholic apologists try to claim that the ancient Fathers and Doctors of the church were far more Protestant than Catholic in their thinking. Quotes are offered as proof that the Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Eternal Security and other Protestant beliefs. Yet, was this really the case? Here’s what Patristics scholar Fr. Hugh Barbour has to say in his article, “Baptists at Nicea”:

So was St. Athanasius a “true Protestant,” as the Baptist apologist claims? The Athanasius who believed that a Christian could lose his salvation through mortal sin (cf. Discourses Against the Arians 3, 25)? The Athanasius who venerated Mary as “the Mother of God” (Greek: theotokos; cf. Treatise on the Incarnation of the Word, 8)? The Athanasius who believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity (cf. Discourses Against the Arians II, 70)? The Athanasius who believed in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist (Sermon to the Newly Baptized)? If indeed Athanasius can be called a Protestant, then the word “Protestant” has no meaning at all.


[Regarding the Canons of the Council of Nicea] Is there any Protestant who would view the Holy Eucharist as “most necessary viaticum” at the hour of death? Would the Baptist apologist recognize the Eucharist as a “sacrifice” or oblation in which he shares? Do Protestants, for that matter, concern themselves with episcopal jurisdiction, the dates of feasts and the proper posture for liturgical prayer? When was the last time you heard of a Protestant pastor giving absolution and holy viaticum to a repentant excommunicate in order to ensure his eternal salvation?

No Protestant apologist attending the Council of Nicea would recognize it as an organ of his denomination or as anything resembling his version of “biblical” Christianity. The issues discussed and the conclusions reached are common only to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy. Of course none of the 318 council Fathers would be familiar with the expression “Roman” Catholic, since this pejorative expression was invented by the Protestants of the 16th century, and later humbly adopted by orthodox Christianity in the West. Nevertheless, the Council of Nicea bears the unmistakable mark of Catholicism. Not surprising, since the Council was Catholic.

Read the entire article here.


6 thoughts on “Was the Early Church Protestant?

  1. dear sam,

    christianity is the only salutary river in the world. it’s a joy to meet brothers and sisters in Christ, bathing in the refreshing water. however, if someone wants to find the Spring, he has to climb, upstream. that is not an easy job. along the way, there’ll be many obstacles. even the water iself seems to be obstructive. however, the Truth can be found and understood as Truth. and the greatest discovery is that the Truth is not a doctrine or a serie of dogmas you have to learn and accept, but a Person, you may love and follow or reject. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (John 14,6)
    Stay vigilant and be convinced that the Truth will guide and bless your peaceful search.

    love in X,


  2. Sam,
    I would consider the title to your post a rhetorical question. But then again, such things are not obvious to all.

    Becoming familiar with early church history along with the writings of the Fathers, I became convinced (over time), that the Early Church was not Protestant. I didn’t begin reading such material with the intent to proove or disproove Protestantism. However, I did read in order to become more informed about the church that existed in the pre-Reformation era. In my reading I discovered a church that taught, believed and worshipped in a way far different from the Protestant churches I had attended. This discovery was both refreshing and troubling. Thus, while in the midst of this discovery, which I would characterize a spiritual transformation, I came to the realization that I could no longer be a Protestant.

  3. Hi Darlene,

    Yes, it was a rhetorical question. Perhaps I should have made that more obvious!

    Your experience of discovery and conversion sounds very much like my own. It seems an honest student of Christian history will inevitably have a difficult time remaining Protestant.

    In Christ,


  4. Sam,
    A staunch Protestant, armed with an anti-Catholic attitude, will have a bit more difficulty reconciling the obvious differences between the beliefs and worship of the pre-Reformation Church and their own. I experienced a great deal of ambivalence on my departure from Protestantism. That was due to wrestling with beliefs I had at one time vehemently opposed. I had to come to terms with the raging Protestant from within while at the same time consider the wisdom of those saints and martyrs who defended the Church and her teachings.

    My journey was wrought with sorrow and joy, turmoil and peace, vacillating and resolve. I reached a state in which my convictions propelled me to act upon the overwhelming evidence. The truths I had discovered were no light matter to me, and I was willing to risk rejection from family and friends if need be.

    My search consisted of a circuitous route through the Roman Catholic Church, eventually leading me to the Orthdox Church. While I learned much of value attending mass, RCIA, and personal counsel with a priest, I could not come to terms with, nor be convinced of certain teachings which the RCC would expect me to affirm. I’ll admit it’s not easy to wade through all the information; such a process can become staggering.

    May God grant you wisdom and humility in seeking the truth and may His love rule in your heart.

  5. dear sam and darlene

    sorry for my bad english, i’m not used to talk or write it. however i just want to add this: there is a Truth, that/who can be found and understood as Truth, because it’s a person, it’s Christ. now it’s a pity that in the Church of Christ many denominations claim to possess that Truth and therefore blame the others.
    what to do with: ‘love your ennemy.’? history proves that the orthodox church is the holy, catholic and apostolic church, left by the Roman Catholic Church in 1054. as a sign of protest in 1517 the protestants left the Roman Catholic Church. that are facts, but in no way reasons for judgement. if someone wants to find the spring of a river, he or she has to leave the place, where the river meets the sea. although this place is joyful and vivid, the spring can only be found on a higher level, more personal and quiet and difficult to reach.
    to live in love with a partner has nothing to do with knowing things (the weight, favourite meal, etc.) or to do things (each saterday flower, a kiss before leaving, etc.)it’s knowing that the relation is unique and not capable for improvement and act consequently…

    love in X,


  6. Greetings Brothers,
    When we examine any denominationality among the early church, we should look to Paul for our answer “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, so that the cross of Christ would not be made void” 1Cor1:10-17. There is sufficient argument for both positions. As a former Catholic and current Protestant, I find elements of both practices to contradict scripture in some tradition but that is why we have grace. Are we not all sinners in need of salvation?

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