See, a popular view of church history among Protestants (and even evangelicals) is that Jesus, Paul, and the Apostles believed like we do, but after the close of the canon the Church was infiltrated by Roman Catholicism and all faithfulness to Scripture was lost. Basically, the contemporary Protestant view of Church History seems to be that, aside from a few faithful followers, the Church basically "went Roman Catholic" until Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin liberated her from her Roman Catholic shackles in the 16th century.
But such a perception is far from accurate. The writings of the Church Fathers overwhelmingly support the central tenets of evangelical conviction. And a careful study of church history shows us that through the entirety of the past 2,000 years God has preserved a faithful remnant even in the most faithless of times.
Often, Roman Catholic apologists talk about there being a "Patristic Consensus," a unanimous agreement among the Church Fathers supporting the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church. Well, a balanced reading of the Fathers show that no such unanimity exists. The "early church" was not a homogeneous, cohesive, unified group of Christians, but rather a term that refers collectively to the disciples of the Apostles, the early apologists and polemicists, and second- and third-century theologians. And there is great variety among them. This has led Protestant apologists to call the notion of a Patristic Consensus a myth.
What's interesting, though, is that while the "early church" varied on many fine points of doctrine, if any sort of patristic consensus existed it was on the evangelical doctrines of sola Scriptura and sola fide. The following are some selections from the writings of the Fathers regarding sola Scriptura: that the Christian's authority is Scripture alone, and not the word of any pope, council, magisterium, or even church father -- even themselves!
And remember, while it's interesting and encouraging that these Fathers affirm sola Scriptura, their writings themselves do not establish sola Scriptura. As they will tell you themselves, they are not our authority; only Scripture is.
Irenaeus (c. 140–c. 202): We have received the disposition of our salvation by no others, but those by whom the Gospel came to us; which they then preached, and afterwards by God’s will delivered to us in the Scriptures, to be the pillar and ground of our faith. [And so the Apostolic oral tradition is recorded for us in the Scriptures.]
Tertullian (c. 160–235): The Scriptures . . . indeed furnish us with our Rule of faith. (Against Praxeas, 11)
Hippolytus (c. 170–c. 236): There is one God, whom we do not otherwise acknowledge, brethren, but out of the Sacred Scriptures. For as he, who would profess the wisdom of this world cannot otherwise attain it, unless he read the doctrines of the philosophers; so whosoever will exercise piety towards God, can learn it no where but from the Holy Scriptures.
Origen (c. 185–c. 254): In the two testaments every word that pertaineth unto God may be sought and discussed, and out of them all knowledge of things may be understood. And if anything remains which Holy Scripture does not determine, no other third scripture ought to be received to authorize any knowledge, but we must “commit to the fire” what remains, that is, reserve it unto God.
Origen (c. 185–254): In proof of all words which we advance in matters of doctrine, we ought to set forth the sense of the Scripture as confirming the meaning which we are proposing. . . . Therefore we should not take our own ideas for the confirmation of doctrine, unless someone shows that they are holy because they are contained in the divine Scriptures (Homily 25 on Matthew).
Athanasius (c. 296–373): For the true and pious faith in the Lord has become manifest to all, being both ‘known and read’ from the Divine Scriptures. (Letter, 60.6)
Athanasius (c. 296–373): The holy and divinely inspired writings are sufficient of themselves alone to make known the truth.
Athanasius (c. 296–373): In the Holy Scriptures alone is the instruction of religion announced—to which let no man add, from which let no man detract—which are sufficient in themselves for the enunciation of the truth.
Basil (c. 329–379): It is evidently a falling away from the faith, and a proof of great presumption, to neglect any part of what is written, or to introduce anything that is not written.
Chrysostom (c. 344–407): When there is a question of Divine things, would it not be a folly rashly and blindly to receive the opinions of others, when we have a rule by which we can examine everything? I mean the Divine law. It is for this reason that I conjure you all, without resting in the slightest degree on the judgment of others, to consult the Scriptures.
Chrysostom (c. 344–407): `Tis from ignorance of Scripture that all our evils arise; hence the plague of so many heresies, hence our careless lives, our fruitless labors .. . They err who look not to the bright rays of the divine Scriptures, because they walk in darkness.
Chrysostom (344–407): These then are the reasons; but it is necessary to establish them all from the Scriptures, and to show with exactness that all that has been said on this subject is not an invention of human reasoning, but the very sentence of the Scriptures. (Homilies on the Statues 1.14)
Augustine (354–430): In those things, which are plainly laid down in Scripture, all things are found, which embrace faith and morals.
Augustine (354–430): Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare be wiser than we ought. (De Bono Viduitatis, 2)
Augustine (354–430): Let those things be removed from our midst which we quote against each other not from divine canonical books but from elsewhere. . . . I do not want the holy church proved by human documents but by divine oracles. (The Unity of the Church, 3)
Theodoret of Cyrus (c. 393–c. 466): Bring me not human reasonings and syllogisms, for I rely on the divine Scripture alone.
and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;
so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17 -
His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness,
through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
- 2 Peter 1:3 -
So we have the prophetic word made more sure,
to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place,
until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts.
- 2 Peter 1:19 -