When trying to argue about a 'side' in either the Great Schism (1054 - Between the East and the West) or in the Reformation, the use of the fathers can be downright abuse.
I found a perfect example this morning.
The Text Itself
Here's a portion of Saint Ambrose of Milan's "The Sacrament of the Incarnation of Our Lord"
"when he [Peter] heard But who do you say I am,' immediately, not unmindful of his station, exercised his primacy, that is, the primacy of confession, not of honor; the primacy of belief, not of rank... [those] who said that Christ was either Elias, or Jeremias... that voice had filth, that voice had perplexities... let our voice resound that Christ is the Son of God. My words are pure, in which expressed impiety has left no perplexities.' This, then, is Peter, who has replied for the rest of the Apostles rather, before the rest of men. And so he is called the foundation, because he knows how to preserve not only his own but the common foundation Christ agreed with him the Father revealed it to him. For he who speaks of the true generation of the Father, received it from the Father, did not receive it from the flesh. Faith, then, is the foundation of the Church, for it was not said of Peter's flesh, but of his faith, that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' But his confession of faith conquered hell. And this confession did not shut out one heresy, for, since the Church like a good ship is often buffeted by many waves, the foundation of the Church should prevail against all heresies. The day will fail me sooner than the names of heretics and the different sects, yet against all is this general faith - that Christ is the Son of God, and eternal from the Father, and born of the Virgin Mary..." - 32-35
How it is used
Now if you're browsing "Catholic Answers" forums or reading the new Scott Hahn book, you may see quotations from this passage like: "[Peter] heard But who do you say I am,' immediately, not unmindful of his station, exercised his primacy, that is, the primacy of confession... the primacy of belief" or perhaps when attacking Anglicans and Orthodox, you'll see: "Peter... has replied for the rest of the Apostles"
Then when you're browsing Lutheran or Reformed websites, you'll see James White throw out: "Faith, then, is the foundation of the Church, for it was not said of Peter's flesh, but of his faith, that 'the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' But his confession of faith..." without any mention to that primacy talk earlier.
What it is actually saying:
Now the whole point of the text was to refute the Arian heresy which denied the deity of Christ, as well as the long list of other heresies down to the Monophysites, who all in some sense denied that Christ was both God and Man completely. The reason St. Ambrose wrote this, was to get that point across, not to discuss episcopal squables or establish an ecclesiology.
In the end, a Baptist can read this and add a hearty amen, just as much as a Roman Catholic can, because they both confess that Jesus is True God and True Man.
Or as the Simpsons constantly encourages us: can't we all just go beat up some Unitarians?
Do we really care what the fathers say?
I'll add this final warning to those who wish to turn the fathers into 11th or 16th century polemicists.We need to look at their writings honestly and carefully, admitting that in some ways we all stand in utter contradiction to the fathers. Perhaps even admitting that where they agreed, they were either wrong or at least, not totally right.
For instance, it is a widely known fact that the consensus of the fathers for some five hundred years, universally condemned musical instruments in worship, and claimed that this was a pagan practice.
Who follows such a belief?
And let's just say that we agree with the fathers and say: musical instruments are evil, or shouldn't be used in worship. What about David? For Holy Writ admonishes: "Praise the LORD with harp: sing unto him with the psaltery and an instrument of ten strings." (Ps. 33:2)
Who is to be believed?
Even if we say the fathers, what would they say?
"I do not wish that credence be given us; let the Scripture be quoted. Not of myself do I say: ‘In the beginning was the Word,’ but I hear it; I do not feign but I read what we all read" - St. Ambrose of Milan (The Sacrament of the Incarnation of the Lord)
But the question this post should leave you with is of course: Did he take that out of context?