Economy in the early Church

One issue that I have been reflecting on is trying to take the early Church as being normative for Church life today. Although, I am a traditionalist, or rather more precisely a canonist, I believe that many things in the early Church were allowed as economies due to the necessities of the time. These things were normalised later by the Ecumenical Councils at a time when the Church was reaching maturity.

Thus some of the diversity in the early Church is a reflection of this economy that was later made more uniform by the Fathers when the Church was reaching maturity such as unmarried Bishops. This diversity was not a norm for the Church, although it is not opposed to the Church. Nevertheless, some diversity is not permitted again such as variations in the date of Easter because these have been fixed by the Fathers. Other practices that were also diverse earlier were fixed in Councils such as not kneeling on Sundays and not fasting on Saturdays. There will always be diversity in the Church while man has free will and responsibility for his actions but this does not mean that we deliberately seek this outside necessity.

One problem I have with Rome is that it did not submit to the uniformity of the Church in these matters but continued to practice its own customs in defiance to the uniformity of the Church. For myself, it is Rome’s attitude to the Council of Trullo, and also to the famous Canon 28 of Chalcedon, that led to its fall. In exalting in its Primacy, it put itself above the Church and submission to the uniformity of the Church, trusting rather in its own customs, even though well established. Eventually, this pride leads one to heresy and fall from Grace. This remains a warning for us all. I accept though that Roman Catholics see this matter from another perspective with abundant justifications and also that Orthodox themselves are not very obedient in these matters either.

Protestants are also in error trying to model themselves on the early Church. Not only do they conform the early Church to their own ideas, even if they do follow the Church properly in practice, although impossibly regarding the Apostolic succession, they are attributing economy with norm and God’s directions with His allowances for our weakness. I believe that it is necessary to look to the Ecumenical Councils for the norms of Faith and practice through which we must consider both the early Church and the Church today.


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