David King just posted this in our chat channel, and it is so utterly spot-on that I wanted to share it. Before Newman became a Roman Catholic, he very rightly recognized Rome’s modus operandi in talking about the early writers of the church. When you provide specific citations that contradict their position, they see them as “individuals.” Yet, they constantly speak of “the Fathers” as if they were modern Romanists. How do you leap from individual writers, who expressed a variety of views, to the “unanimous consent of the Fathers” to which Romanists appeal constantly? Here is what Newman said:
I am but showing how Romanists reconcile their abstract reverence for Antiquity with their Romanism,—with their creed, and their notion of the Church’s infallibility in declaring it; how small their success is, and how great their unfairness, is another question. Whatever judgment we form either of their conduct or its issue, such is the fact, that they extol the Fathers as a whole, and disparage them individually; they call them one by one Doctors of the Church, yet they explain away one by one their arguments, judgments, and testimony. They refuse to combine their separate and coincident statements; they take each by himself, and settle with the first before they go to the next. And thus their boasted reliance on the Fathers comes, at length, to this,—to identify Catholicity with the decrees of Councils, and to admit those Councils only which the Pope has confirmed. John Henry Newman, Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church: Viewed Relatively to Romanism and Popular Protestantism, 2nd ed. (London: Gilbert & Rivington, 1838), pp. 69-71.