A Lesson in Theological Pathology

In late 2008 Douglas Wilson posted on “Thumbnail Church History” with one of the titles being “The First Five Centuries.” Anyway these are just excerpts and thus you may call them “small-piece-of-a-thumb-nail Church History.”

Augustine (A.D. 354-430): Augustine was the great church father from this era, and his contribution to the way we think is incalculable. His greatest contribution came from his theological battle with Pelagius, a British monk and heretic. At issue was the depravity of man, and the sovereignty of grace.

Constantine (A.D. c. 288-337): Modern evangelicals find it easy to reckon the conversion of Constantine to Christianity as a unmitigated disaster. But the sanctification of culture is not an exact parallel to the true conversion of a man. True, many serious problems followed Constantine’s conversion, and so what else is new? It would not have been better had Rome continued to persecute Christians.

A couple more:

Images: The church was remarkably free of images through the first two centuries. And when images were introduced, they met with stiff opposition. Consider the comment of Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis (c. 315-403). “It is a horrid abomination to see in Christian temples a painted image either of Christ or of any saint.” But the flesh was strong, and this pestilent superstition did enter the Church. The error did not find a firm footing in the church until 2nd Nicaea in 787.

How many in professing Christendom repudiate the blatant violation of the second commandment? Even the heretic T-Bost (1676-1732) clearly saw the idolatry in making images of the Triune God:

” … the representing of the Father by an image of an old man, the Son by that of a lamb, or a young man; or the Father by large shining sun, the Son by a lesser sun shining, and the Holy Ghost by a dove, as in some Great Bibles from England. It is lamentable to think how frequent of late the blasphemous pictures of Christ hanging on the cross are grown among Protestants, by Rome’s art, no doubt to fit the nations for their idolatry. All these are directly contrary to God’s word, Isa. 40.18. Deut. 4.15,19″ (Thomas Boston, Works, Of the Second Commandment).


“As we consider the development of the Church, we should be aware of the fact that the lover of truth does not need to fear the reading of history at all. As R.L. Dabney noted,

‘In this connection no more is needed than to point briefly to the fact that the best arguments against bad institutions are drawn from their history. The readiest way to explode unreasonable pretensions is to display their origin. Such an auditory as this need only be reminded that the battle against popery in the Reformation was fought on scriptural and historical grounds. Many of the most mortal stabs which Luther gave to mischievous popish institutions were by simply telling the ignorant world where and when they arose.'”

A lesson in theological pathology and etiology from Wilson and Dabney? To paraphrase what Doug Wilson said of the late John W. Robbins once:

Putting [Dabney ‘n Wilson] in charge of fighting heresy is like making Typhoid Mary the director of the Center for Disease Control.