Jim Papandrea on the Catholicism of Early Christianity
Date: February 19th, 2017

Protestants have often accused the Roman Catholic Church of “adding on” a great many traditions, rituals, and theological components that were not part of early Christianity.  Prof. Jim Papandrea, an associate professor of Church history at the Garrett-Evangelical Seminary (Northwestern University), takes these ideas to task by showing that early Christianity and Catholicism are very much in sync with one another.   We begin our discussion by proving the role of “tradition” in early Christianity.  Prof. Papandrea makes the case that tradition — the means of passing on knowledge throughout the ages — was important from the very birth of Christianity and was essential in the writing of the Bible.  He talks about the need for authority and unity in teaching Church doctrine and how this lends itself to hierarchy.  To illustrate this, Jim puts forth the life of Irenaeus, the Heretic Hunter (as he calls him).  We then move on to a number of other topics that often divide Protestants and Catholics, such as the role of faith and good works, and the need for the papacy.  As for the latter, Jim makes the case that true Catholics have never believed that you can earn your way into heaven via “good works,” nor have they denied the importance of salvation by personal faith, but rather he argues that doing good deeds is a means of ensuring one does not fall into a sinful lifestyle.  He argues that baptism allows one to get a “clean slate,” but does not guarantee a free ride to salvation.  Here he uses Clement of Alexandria to illustrate the proper understanding of alms-giving, penance, and salvation.  Jim then reaffirms what was noted earlier in the podcast when it comes to the papacy, and that is the important role of a unifying hierarchy to preserve the faith.  This leads to an interesting discussion of Eastern Orthodoxy and congregational Protestantism.  He calls up Leo the Great to make his point about the importance of having a unified faith.  We also examine the veneration of the saints, a practice that many Protestants see as idolatry.  Much like our previous guest Brian O’Neel, Jim notes that this isn’t idolatry, but rather a means of devotion and intercession, as well as being an instructive way to live out one’s Christian faith.  He makes an interesting analogy as to how honoring the saints helps us connect with “The Cloud” (of past Church history).  St. Augustine comes into play here as the exemplar Church Father illustrating this point (and Tony notes that Augustine was also the “Hammer of the Donatists”).  We finish off with Jim’s seven major “essential connections” between Catholics and Protestants.  Throughout the conversation, we discuss the importance of ecumenism, and given the friendship Jim and Tony have had going back to high school, and that each individual has converted faiths in opposite directions, this was a lesson that was well received by both.  Recorded: February 10, 2017.


Prof. Jim Papandrea’s personal website and bio at Garrett-Evangelical Seminary (Northwestern University).

Jim Papandrea on YouTube and Twitter. (RoR is also on Twitter!)

Handed Down: The Catholic Faith of Early Christians, by James Papandrea.

Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again, by Mike Aquilina and James Papandrea.

Reading the Early Church Fathers, by James Papandrea.

Rome: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Eternal City, by James Papandrea (and Romesick Photography, a companion site).

The Earliest Christologies, by James Papandrea.

The Wedding of the Lamb: A Historical Approach to the Book of Revelation, by James Papandrea.

Novatian of Rome and the Culmination of Pre-Nicene Orthodoxy, by James Papandrea.


Jim Papandrea on Christianity’s Seven Revolutions.

Jim Papandrea on the End of the World and Revelation.

Jim Papandrea on the Church Fathers and Patristic Exegesis.

Tim Kelleher on the Nicene Creed and Hollywood.

Brian O’Neel on the Saints of February.

Brian O’Neel on the Saints of January.

Brian O’Neel on Saint Who? Some Holy Unknowns.

Brandon O’Brien on Paul Behaving Badly.

Michael Licona on the Historiography of the Resurrection.

Jim Tonkowich on Converting to Catholicism.

3 Responses to “Jim Papandrea on the Catholicism of Early Christianity”

  1. Patrick D says:


    Wonderful discussion. At one point, Dr. Papandrea maintains that in the earliest decades of the Church, doctrines and beliefs about Mary were already present in theology. As specifically regards Mary, this is not true.

    The early Church fathers were largely silent (or, in Tertullian’s case, hostile) about Marian veneration. Marian devotion was a matter of popular (i.e. heterodox) piety rather than theological. Of course, that changed at Ephesus with the Nestorian Christological controversy.

    I’m Catholic, by the way.


  2. Hi Patrick,
    You admit that Marian devotion was a matter of popular piety – and that’s true, evidenced by the second century Protevangelion of James. And this is exactly my point – that popular piety was a grassroots movement that made its way up into the hierarchy, and was accepted by the hierarchy. So while some people criticize the hierarchy for “top-down” doctrinal management, this is one of those cases where the wisdom of the sensus fidelium was accepted by the Church. And of course the practice of calling Mary “Mother of God” was established long before the Council of Ephesus – it was Nestorius who was objecting to an already common practice. Finally, while Tertullian is not necessarily the authority to submit to on this (being the rigorist/montanist that he was), I don’t know offhand anywhere where he was hostile to Marian devotion – can you give me an example of a document (and chapter) where he is hostile to it? Thanks. JP

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