This is just a light touch on the subject. I will try to get more specifics about how the Reformers, as well as fathers of denominations such as John Wesley with the Methodists and Alexander Campbell with the Churches of Christ, applied the writings of the early church to their respective movements.
From Reformation scholar David Steinmetz of Duke Divinity school, as cited by ChristianHistoryInstitute.org in an interview:
“The Reformation is an argument not just about the Bible but about the early Christian fathers, whom the Protestants wanted to claim. This is one of those things that is so obvious nobody has paid much attention to it—then you look and you see it everywhere.
“The reformers use the fathers all over the place. We know Calvin read Augustine, and we discovered recently that Luther read Jerome—he had copies annotated in his own hand. The index of Calvin’s Institutes is filled with an enormous number of quotations from the fathers. And in the first preface to that work, addressed to Francis I, Calvin did his best to show his teachings were in complete harmony with the fathers.”
Steinmetz then gives examples, which include John Chrysostom, Augustine, and Jerome. These are all fourth and fifth century fathers, and thus, they are after the great changes under Constantine.
There is a really awesome quote on there. I agree with the Reformers’ sentiment on this:
“The Protestants did this because they were keen to have ancestors. They knew that innovation was another word for heresy.” (ibid.)
If we could just get moderns to believe that! Boy, would there be some massive changes in what we say and, more importantly, do! We have twisted several Reformation ideas into something the Reformers would never recognize.
This quote from John Wesley, founder of the Methodists, is somewhat well-known:
Can any who spend several years in those seats of learning, be excused if they do not add to that reading of the Fathers the most authentic commentators on Scripture, as being both nearest the fountain, eminently endued with that Spirit by whom all Scripture was given. It will be easily perceived, I speak chiefly of those who wrote before the council of Nicea. But who could not likewise desire to have some acquaintance with those that followed them with St. Chrysostom, Basil, Augustine, and above all, the man of a broken heart, Ephraim Syrus. (Cited by Wesley Center Online)
Wesley agrees with me that the pre-Nicene fathers are best, and I agree with him that the fathers of the next century or two are also of benefit.
well, that’s a start. More to find out.