Robert Gundry on ‘Pervasive Interpretive Pluralism’

Hat Tip to Steve Hays over at Triablogue. Robert Gundry’s review is really helpful. The conclusion is phenomenal:

Though Smith has justifiably brought to the fore a problem in pervasive interpretive pluralism, then, this problem plagues all literature, not just the Bible as perceived by biblicists. In regard to the latter, I find his arguments incoherent and his solutions inadequate. He cites Don Carson to the effect that solving the problem requires “better scriptural exegesis.” Indeed. So maybe someone should write a book arguing that pervasive pluralism in biblical interpretation is due to the lingering deleterious effects, even on biblicists, of nonbiblicism in the past. But what do I know? I’m neither a sociologist nor a theologian. Just a biblicist.


The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Conclusion


IX. Concluding Thoughts

I originally wrote a review of Peter Lampe’s book measuring roughly 20 pages. I then wrote 40 more pages. BOH is the length of a book at 180+ pages in a PDF reader. I’ve added nearly 80 more pages to the conversation. That’s over 300 pages exchanged in the period of less than 24 months. It’s so much data that it can be difficult to make heads or tails out of it. As a matter of fact, it can cause people that want answers to throw their hands up in despair. BOH seems to acknowledge this in addressing its first objection. The objection is stated that given the length of the argument, it would seem that both options are plausible (BOH’s position and mine) so we ultimately need to use our private judgment. Consequently, the Catholic is in the same epistemic position as the Protestant.

By way of response BOH reasserts the Tu Quoque argument is not appropriate because the Catholic places their faith in an infallible Magisterium while the Protestant only finds his own opinion. This leaves the Protestant with uncertainty regarding his interpretation of Divine revelation, but places the Catholic in a position of certainty regarding the content of Divine revelation. BOH then claims,

Nevertheless, if true, any tu quoque objection simply proves that we Christians are the most miserable of men. For we claim to have a sure faith in what God has revealed, and yet we have no means by which we can distinguish our own opinions about faith from what faith itself holds with definitive and irrevocable strength. Such a despairing situation does not fit with what we know concerning God’s existence and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Therefore, a despairing situation should seem absurd to us, and the insouciance of the tu quoque objection toward discovering a divinely-established and divinely-protected teaching office should also strike us as absurd.

This statement is loaded with highly contestable assumptions. For BOH, if God has not provided us with an infallible Magisterium this would make us “the most miserable of men” because we would not be able to know doctrine without “definitive and irrevocable strength.” This assumes Scripture cannot provide us with definitive doctrinal statements—or at least that those doctrinal statements are insufficient.  Yet, it assumes the very point in question—did Jesus establish such a Church? Given OT structures and the role of the Torah in the life of Israel, the position that encounters more prima facie problems is the one advocated by BOH. God can and does work through written texts to communicate who he is and how we are to live—even though BOH’s appropriation of OT structures would render the OT saints as “the most miserable of men.”[1]

This tact, of allowing assumptions to bear the burden of an argument, is evident throughout BOH. In fact, BOH makes a curious methodological assumption in its concluding remarks,

Earlier ambiguous or underdetermined data does not undermine these witnesses, given the historiographical principle that all other things being equal, one should interpret earlier data in continuity with later testimony. Therefore, the ILD principle does not make the Catholic view only equally plausible in comparison with a “presbyterial” view. In fact, following a sound historical method and a complete data set makes it clear that the Catholic position is morally certain.

The principle offered is itself far from a historiographical principle, but even conceding it, BOH simply assumes that the interpretation of the data is equivalent when interpreted in continuity or in discontinuity. If that is not the case then everything that follows is uncertain—far from being morally certain. Assertions take the place of arguments.

At multiple points BOH says that the data is “inscrutable,” meaning that the data I’ve selected is no better than the Catholic alternative. This accusation is leveled at *every* section of my article. Sometimes this is combined with other arguments regarding the proper conditions for silence to carry evidential weight, but the claim of BOH is that in every single piece of evidence I have violated the ILD principle. In other words, at every single point episcopal argument is *at least* equal with the presbyterian thesis. At *no point* does the presbyterian thesis have *any* evidence in its favor. At its best, the evidence is equal to the Catholic paradigm.

For example, Bryan states,

And in our article we showed both that your argument is unsound, and that none of the data to which you appealed is evidence for the truth of your thesis. [Source]

The prima facie problem with this is the existence of different interpretations. Why do people believe that the evidence points in another direction? They could be committing a logical fallacy or deriving false conclusions—at least one group in this conversation is deriving false conclusions—but how do we know the ILD principle is being violated? What standards are there? The truth of the matter is, that it is a subjective assessment of the evidence. When BOH argues that I’ve violated the ILD principle, they are arguing that based on their subjective evaluation of the evidence the ILD principle has been violated. Yet, the very thing under dispute is the meaning of the evidence and here we clearly disagree.

Since Bryan does not believe that BOH has presented *any* evidence, it is unremarkable that he accuses my article of violating the ILD. Such an accusation, however, demonstrates remarkable hubris wherein the majority opinion of academia is held where “none of the data is evidence.” Even though most agree OJ committed the crime, the reason Johnny Cochran could argue, “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” is because the fact that the glove did not fit was a favorable piece of evidence for the defense. It doesn’t mean that the defense was ultimately right or that it explained every piece of evidence, but it *was* a piece of evidence. Likewise, one may disagree with my conclusions, but denying that anything presented was evidence is to deny the obvious.

This is why good historical scholarship allows the totality of evidence to shape and form conclusions about the evidence. Thus, Peter Lampe’s study commences with the following approach to evidence,

We face a tour through a variety of material: literary materials, above all, but also epigraphical and archaeological ones are at hand, which often only become illuminating in combination

Historical scholarship is predicated upon this type of practice: examining evidence, reaching conclusions, moving along to more evidence, allowing that evidence to chasten previous conclusions and inform additional research.  A myopic approach (“This violates ILD. This violates ILD. This violates ILD.”)  isolates evidence, insulating interpretations from legitimate challenges and missing the larger picture. As the methodology section highlights, constructing a narrative requires an attention to detail as well as the broader story being told in the organization of that data. BOH’s approach stalls this sharpening discussion by asserting superiority in every single section without providing substantive engagement.

In conclusion, I do thank CtC for providing an outlet for my initial article and for taking the time to write such a lengthy response. I must admit that at times frustration has crept in and I have been truly dismayed about what I perceive to be very mischaracterization of my position. At times, that frustration may have clouded my judgment or prevented me from responding with the charity that God requires of me. I pray that the Spirit of God continues to teach me humility as I mature and grow in the Lord and I appreciate the grace of those whom I may have dealt with in anything short of a spirit of love.

I do believe that much of my article has been left unexplored, however. My hope for the contributors to BOH is that they revise and strengthen their arguments and my hope for readers and followers would be that they carefully examine what each side has actually presented. I have taken great care to read BOH thoroughly and respond to the arguments accordingly. If there is anything I have misrepresented, however, I sincerely hope that someone will point that out to me. Thus brings the conclusion for my interaction on this topic with CtC. May God open our hearts to see clearly and love him and one another.

[1] Another prima facie problem with this argument is that billions of people do not see the tension that BOH claims is necessarily true.  Muslims, Jews, Hindu’s, Buddhists, etc., all have sacred texts that govern their communities, not a sole infallible “successor.”


The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Apostolic Succession

'Whoa... sorry, I thought the sign said, 'Karate Night'.'

C. Apostolic Succession

This section is vitally important because it is a crucial step in undermining CtC’s claim that Apostolic Succession provides Catholics with a principled means that Scripture does not. For the sake of space, I won’t reiterate my argument and citation of the CtC argument here, but one quote from Bryan (in my article) explains how CtC perceives the organization of the Church,

The Church Christ founded is visible because, as His Mystical Body, it necessarily has an essentially united visible hierarchy; this is the hierarchy of bishops and priests united under the episcopal successor of St. Peter, the visible head appointed by Christ.

Such a statement provides the context for my understanding of CtC’s concept of Apostolic Succession, and I believe that my argument has falsified this conception. Benedict echoes this sentiment,

Likewise, the unity of the episcopate, of which “the Roman Pontiff, as the Successor of Peter, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation”, continues down the centuries through the apostolic succession and is the foundation of the identity of the Church in every age with the Church built by Christ on Peter and on the other Apostles.[1]

Benedict, echoing Lumen Gentium argues that the Pope is the visible source of the unity of the episcopate. Lumen Gentium says much the same thing,

But the college or body of bishops has no authority unless it is understood together with the Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter as its head. The pope’s power of primacy over all, both pastors and faithful, remains whole and intact. In virtue of his office, that is as Vicar of Christ and pastor of the whole Church, the Roman Pontiff has full, supreme and universal power over the Church. And he is always free to exercise this power. The order of bishops, which succeeds to the college of apostles and gives this apostolic body continued existence, is also the subject of supreme and full power over the universal Church, provided we understand this body together with its head the Roman Pontiff and never without this head.[2]

The reason I highlight these things is to point out an important principle for Roman Catholics: Succession of a Petrine office is of the essence of Apostolic Succession to the Roman Catholic Church. Without this Petrine succession, the Church functions without the head of the body. Rome’s identity is inextricably linked to an historical Petrine successor (CCC 880-887). Without this connection, Rome may well have men in its churches that can trace their ordination back to the Apostles, but this would be insufficient to constitute the Church. As Ott explains, “…the apostolic Church and the unfalsified teaching are where Peter or his successor is” (pg. 308).

There is a lingering problem of definitions regarding Apostolic Succession as well. In my original article I joined them because the consistent presentation of Apostolic Succession is that the monarchical episcopate was the mechanism for the Apostles to transfer their “office” to those who succeeded them. BOH seems to argue similarly, but exerts much effort in arguing that even if there were not a single bishop in Rome, that still would not undermine Catholic dogma. Yet, the only way they could argue that a plurality of leaders without the monarchical episcopate is compatible with Roman teaching is if they likewise rejected the reliability of Irenaeus and Tertullian on the existence of the monarchical episcopate. I think this is a reasonable position, but then it severely blunts BOH’s argument. If they accept Irenaeus’s testimony, then they believe the monarchical episcopacy originated with Linus when it was committed to him by Paul and Peter. The monarchical episcopate could possibly be distinct from Apostolic Succession in Rome, but that’s not BOH’s argument nor is it the argument of later Fathers. BOH therefore faces a dilemma: keep the union of the monarchical episcopate and “apostolic succession” or divide them, acknowledging Irenaeus is unreliable regarding ecclesial structure. There is no middle ground.[3]

Yet, even the notion of Apostolic Succession itself needs to be disambiguated because simply because Irenaeus uses the word “Apostolic succession” does not mean that he means the same thing as Rome does. I assumed, as BOH implies, succession and the monarchical episcopate are distinct but inseparably tethered concepts. Yet, as a closer examination will make clear, Irenaeus is not a knock-down case for Rome’s version of sacramental apostolic succession.

  1. Irenaeus

It is important to understand the context of Irenaeus’s writing and his beliefs regarding Apostolic Succession. Irenaeus primary focus in Against Heresies is to refute the supposed apostolic tradition maintained by various gnostic groups. The first two books are largely concerned with addressing the cosmology of Gnosticism. Irenaeus rightly demonstrates the Gnostics (Valentinus is often in his sights) allow their philosophical speculation to wildly contort and misinterpret Scripture. Irenaeus often responds that the Apostles taught and preached publicly, and none of the churches affirm the dualism and divine emanation of the Gnostics. Instead, Irenaeus explains the faith expressed by the apostolic churches in Book I.X.1-3. This is one of the summaries Irenaeus gives of the Apostolic faith:

The Church, though dispersed through our the whole world, even to the ends of the earth, has received from the apostles and their disciples this faith: [She believes] in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are in them; and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God, who became incarnate for our salvation; and in the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed through the prophets the dispensations of God, and the advents, and the birth from a virgin, and the passion, and the resurrection from the dead, and the ascension into heaven in the flesh of the beloved Christ Jesus, our Lord, and His [future] manifestation from heaven in the glory of the Father to gather all things in one, and to raise up anew all flesh of the whole human race, in order that to Christ Jesus, our Lord, and God, and Saviour, and King, according to the will of the invisible Father, every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess to Him, and that He should execute just judgment towards all; that He may send spiritual wickednesses, and the angels who transgressed and became apostates, together with the ungodly, and unrighteous, and wicked, and profane among men, into everlasting fire; but may, in the exercise of His grace, confer immortality on the righteous, and holy, and those who have kept His commandments, and have persevered in His love, some from the beginning [of their Christian course], and others from [the date of] their repentance, and may surround them with everlasting glory.

Irenaeus goes on to explain this faith is quite distinct from one that claims there is a Pleroma that contains thirty emanations and innumerable aeons. The Apostolic teaching proclaims one God, one Lord and Savior, and one Holy Spirit speaking through the prophets. Irenaeus emphasizes this throughout his treatise. He even states in I.XXII.1,

The rule of truth, which we hold, is that there one God Almighty, who made all things by His Word, and fashioned and formed, out of that which had no existence, all things which exist.

The rule of “truth” in the churches is: one God and one Lord & Savior

After describing and providing a largely philosophical and theological critique of Gnosticism in Books 1&2, Irenaeus proceeds by evaluating the plausibility that the Gnostics are the legitimate heirs of apostolic preaching.  In looking at the Gospels their apostolic authors,

have declared to us that there is one God, Creator of heaven and earth, announced by the law and the prophets; and one Christ the Son of God (3.1.2).

Yet, there some of the Gnostics claimed the Scriptures were insufficient because the truth was delivered “viva voce,” or in the living voice. Irenaeus points out, however, that each Gnostic sect differs from one another regarding this living voice in distinction from both the Scriptures and the testimony of the universal church. Yet, when the succession of presbyters who preach the “rule of truth” is expounded, they claim a greater wisdom than they and even the Apostles themselves (who were teaching without “fullness of knowledge” in Scripture; III.II.2). These Gnostic teachers are slippery and seek to evade the truth, but Irenaeus illustrates his point by showing the succession of teaching exists throughout the world where none of the apostolic successors has ever heard of anything other than One God and one Lord.

Irenaeus reasons, if the Apostles had in fact taught something in secret and not publicly, that they would have at least told the men they were entrusting the church to. Certainly these men would have known something of these secret doctrines. The Apostles would have surely known if these men did not know true doctrine the church would fall into “calamity” and therefore it is safe to assume they would have made sure to entrust the important aspects of the faith to them, otherwise the teaching of the Lord would be forever lost.

While Irenaeus does not have space to draw up a list of the succession in each church, he focuses upon the church founded by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul. Peter and Paul give the episcopate to Linus. After Linus Anacletus was installed (whether the installation comes at the hands of Linus or not is not explicitly stated, however, , and then third, was Clement. Irenaeus goes on to emphasize the writing we possess from Clement, where he “proclaims the one God” Maker of all and God of the OT saints. After listing the rest of the successors to the contemporary time Irenaeus claims this chain of belief confirms the preaching of truth

has come down to us. And this is most abundant proof that there is one and the same vivifying faith, which has been preserved in the Church from the apostles until now, and handed down in truth.”

Moreover, Irenaeus had even seen Polycarp as a young man (perhaps child), who also condemned Gnostics as do the churches in Philippi, and Ephesus (where Paul and John had been). This leads Irenaeus to conclude that these proofs demonstrate the Gnostics do not have the Apostolic teaching. They have neither the Scriptures nor the tradition of the church. The Gnostics have no connection to Apostolic teaching, but the succession of presbyters and bishops preserves the true Apostolic preaching (One Creator of all things, One Lord and Savior) as it exists in Scripture.

Book 4 is then primarily concerned with a biblical theological defense of the one God, One Lord and Savior rule of truth. Irenaeus notes things like Jesus claiming one Father and that Moses and Abraham testify to Christ in the OT. In IV.XXV, Irenaeus emphasizes that Christ’s coming fulfilled the prophecies in the OT Scripture and that Abraham prefigures both the Mosaic and New Covenants. Irenaeus then opens Chapter 26.1 by saying,

If any one, therefore, reads the Scriptures with attention, he will find in them an account of Christ, and a foreshadowing of the new calling.

He then clarifies that the mysteries of this fulfillment were not realized before the Cross, but after,

For every prophecy, before its fulfilment, is to men [full of] enigmas and ambiguities. But when the time has arrived, and the prediction has come to pass, then the prophecies have a clear and certain exposition.

Yet, Irenaeus admits that the Jews do not perceive Christ in the OT, (even if they do not see the plain fulfillment). But then he explains something important about understanding the fulfillment of Scripture. It is Jesus, after his resurrection, that explained the interpretation of prophecies.

For thus it was that the Lord discoursed with the disciples after His resurrection from the dead, proving to them from the Scriptures themselves that Christ must suffer, and enter into His glory, and that remission of sins should be preached in His name throughout all the world. And the disciple will be perfected, and [rendered] like the householder, who brings forth from his treasure things new and old.

In other words, who would know the teaching of Jesus regarding how to interpret the OT other than those whom he taught? Consequently,

Wherefore it is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church—those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the certain gift of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father.

Thus, it is the presbyters and bishops who received the succession from the Apostles the One God/One Lord and Savior paradigm the Gnostics challenge. Thus, Irenaeus councils against gathering with those who have not descended from apostolic churches, teaching strange doctrines. Yet, he also recognizes that it is possible for presbyters who do not fear God and crave “the chief seat” and work evil in secret (4.26.3). These, who are believed to be presbyters by many, along with the Gnostics, ought to raise caution. Irenaeus states (4.25.4),

From all such persons, therefore, it behooves us to keep aloof, but to adhere to those who, as I have already observed, do hold the doctrine of the apostles, and who, together with the order of presbyters (presbyterii ordine), display sound speech and blameless conduct for the confirmation and correction of others.

Instead, the church ought to be nourished by appropriate presbyters (4.25.5),

Where, therefore, the gifts of the Lord have been placed, there it behooves us to learn the truth, [namely,] from those who possess that succession of the Church which is from the apostles, and among whom exists that which is sound and blameless in conduct, as well as that which is unadulterated and incorrupt in speech. For these also preserve this faith of ours in one God who created all things; and they increase that love [which we have] for the Son of God, who accomplished such marvellous dispensations for our sake: and they expound the Scriptures to us without danger, neither blaspheming God, nor dishonouring the patriarchs, nor despising the prophets.

After continuing to affirm the singular story of redemption running through OT and NT in appeals to Scripture and reason, Irenaeus confirms that not only does the NT teach the unity of the testaments, but this is also affirmed by an unnamed presbyter and disciple of the Apostles who taught (4.32.1),

For [he maintained] that there was no other God besides Him who made and fashioned us, and that the discourse of those men has no foundation who affirm that this world of ours was made either by angels, or by any other power whatsoever, or by another God.

Irenaeus then sandwiches a biblical argument between another appeal to read Scripture in continuity with the presbyters in the Church in order to buttress his point (4.32.1).

In the next chapter, (4.33) he compares explains who the spiritual man is. He judges Marcion (4.33.2), Valentinus (4.33.3), Ebionites (4.33.4), Docetists (4.33.5), False prophets (44.33.6), those who give rise to schism (4.33.7)). He also has true knowledge which consists in,

the doctrine of the apostles, and the ancient constitution of the Church throughout all the world, and the distinctive manifestation of the body of Christ according to the successions of the bishops, by which they have handed down that Church which exists in every place, and has come even unto us, being guarded and preserved without any forging of Scriptures, by a very complete system of doctrine, and neither receiving addition nor [suffering] curtailment [in the truths which she believes]; and [it consists in] reading [the word of God] without falsification, and a lawful and diligent exposition in harmony with the Scriptures, both without danger and without blasphemy;

This true knowledge is also strengthened by the persecution of true Christians (4.33.9-13) and the true interpretation of the prophetic Scripture (4.33.14-15). Book V will go on to adduce more arguments against Gnosticism, but many of them are focused upon the gnostic debasement of matter. Irenaeus takes particular pains to emphasize the reality of a bodily resurrection. Irenaeus contests with them with Scripture and reasons to refute their claims.

With this brief analysis of Against Heresies, we can know draw some conclusions and evaluate arguments from BOH. The first important takeaway is that for Irenaeus the succession is not confined to bishops—he extends apostolic succession to presbyters as well.  Scholars generally recognize Irenaeus uses the terms “bishop” and “presbyter” interchangeably (if true, this decisively rules out a translation of “priest’), though there does appear to be some sort of distinction in 4.26.1. Regardless, while Irenaeus *does* point out an episcopal succession, there is no evidence that Irenaeus believed succession was the bishops prerogative alone or that monarchical bishop possessed an Apostolic charism, succeeding the Apostolic office. The presbyters and the bishops, whatever distinction resides between them, both possess Apostolic Succession.

Second, Irenaeus is making a point about the public proclamation of the Gospel, particularly as it related to Gnostic claims to apostolicity. Irenaeus never makes a sacramental argument (the Gnostic do not possess the proper consecrated successor), he makes an historical argument about the public transmission of the Gospel. The Gnostics cannot trace their teaching to any public figure who was involved in the public proclamation of the Gospel. Moreover, they are contradicted by the public teaching of the leaders of the faith throughout the world (Rome, Ephesus, Smyrna). The only apostolic connection Irenaeus is willing to grant Gnostics is association with Simon Magus—the sorcerer who attempted to use the Gospel for his own selfish advantage—whom the Apostles denounced. Irenaeus is almost certainly incorrect about this historical detail, but his larger point is historically persuasive, Gnosticism is wholly distinct from the Apostolic message. Similarly, Irenaeus is not entirely accurate regarding the ancient nature of the episcopate, however, he accurately points to public presbyter-bishops who have contiguously taught the same catholic faith as witnessed in Scripture and the Apostolically founded churches.

Third, at no point does Irenaeus assume the bishops are endowed with infallibility, whether corporately or in communion with the bishop of Rome. He even assumes there are presbyters who ought not be trusted because they do not reverence the Apostolic faith and are self-interested. The bishops and presbyters in succession from the Apostles have received a fixed deposit, which Irenaeus defines in numerous ways, but all of which effectively communicate the Apostles Creed. This is the faith Irenaeus believes has been received and continues to testifies. As the Apostles received their message from Christ, so the Apostles delivered the same message to their disciples who then delivered it to their disciples. This faith has remained unified in its teaching, one God and One Lord and Savior and this is historically demonstrable in history; not in sacramental succession, but in being publicly entrusted with the Apostolic Teaching.

Fourth, there is nothing uniquely Petrine about the episcopal line in Rome. Paul and Peter are represented as jointly bestowing the office upon Linus. It is only 70-80 years later that the claim of Petrine authority would be made.

BOH concludes regarding Irenaeus and Tertullian,

According to St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, the Apostles did not merely preach truths of the divine revelation of Christ to the first Christians, and then go to their martyrdom. That would have left the Church susceptible to the Gnostic challenge, with many clamoring voices claiming to speak for the Apostles, and claiming to have texts written by the Apostles. It would have left the sheep without divinely-designated shepherds, entirely at a loss regarding what is the truth concerning Christ and His Gospel. Rather, according to St. Irenaeus and Tertullian, by publicly appointed successors, and giving to them the authority to appoint further successors in perpetuam, the Apostles cut off the Gnostic challenge at the knees, by, in a sense, perpetuating themselves, and so ensuring that no Gnostic challenger could ever have an equal claim to speak for the Apostles. In this way, it is not just an “historical argument.” It is an argument that reaches back into history in order to show why the normative way of determining the truth concerning the apostolic deposit is to unroll the lines of bishops, and see whose go back to the Apostles. Only those bishops have the divine authority from the Apostles to say what does or does not belong to the deposit of faith received from the Apostles.

In summarizing Irenaeus, BOH goes well beyond what Irenaeus claims for Apostolic succession. Irenaeus does not claim the Gnostics lack a charism of apostolic succession, he rather points out their doctrines and origin do not subside with the Apostles. According to Irenaeus, the Apostles instructed their “successors” (bishops and presbyters) in the faith and entrusted them with the preaching and teaching of the Gospel. The fact the Gnostics cannot point to one of these men whom the apostles entrusted the care of the church shows the unapostolic origin of their claims. It is true that Irenaeus and Tertullian identify the episcopate as a unique mechanism for the passing down the apostolic succession, but even if this point is not historically accurate, their argument retains its strength. While Linus would not have recognized himself as a monarchical bishop, he very probably taught the One God/One Lord and Savior that Irenaeus defends.

BOH goes on to claim,

By having the succession from the Apostles, they possessed what St. Irenaeus calls “the certain gift of truth.” The priests and bishops are promised (by Christ) the gift of preserving the truth that was entrusted to them by Christ through the Apostles, upon condition of remaining in communion with the successor of the one to whom Christ entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven.

This statement by Irenaeus does not concern a gift of preserving the truth entrusted to the bishops upon remaining in communion with “Peter.” Instead, Irenaeus is saying that these men, have received the certain gift of truth as taught from Jesus to the Apostles and from the Apostles to their “successors.” A contextual reading of this portion of Against Heresies (as done above) demonstrates my option is preferable. When one begins examining the sources, BOH’s proposals are tendentious over-extension of the evidence. Upon examination, BOH’s reading of these texts is an imposition of later theological categories into the historical circumstances of the late second century. Irenaeus does not support the manner of Apostolic Succession BOH claims.

  1. Tertullian.

Tertullian, also speaks about the role of the monarchical episcopate in apostolic succession. His Prescription Against Heresies is often adduced to demonstrate his affinity for the necessity of the episcopate. In Chapters 1 & 2 he notes the heresies must exist and that the weak are seduced by them. In Chapter 3, he explains that human frailty extends to everyone except Christ. He then explains,

But what if a bishop, if a deacon, if a widow, if a virgin, if a doctor, if even a martyr, have fallen from the rule (of faith), will heresies on that account appear to possess the truth? Do we prove the faith by the persons, or the persons by the faith…Did not certain of the disciples turn back from the Lord Himself, when they were offended? Yet the rest did not therefore think that they must turn away from following Him, but because they knew that He was the Word of Life, and had come from God, they continued in His company to the very last, after He had gently inquired of them whether they also would go away. It is a comparatively small thing, that certain men, like Phygellus, and Hermogenes, and Philetus, and Hymenæus, deserted His apostle: the betrayer of Christ was himself one of the apostles.

In other words, Tertullian acknowledges the possibility for a bishop to fall from the faith. As a matter of fact, Apostles often fail, but their personal failures do not negate the truth of the Gospel. In subsequent sections Tertullian goes on to explain the speculations of Gnostics are not consistent with finding the true faith. After believing the truth, there is not a deeper knowledge to pursue, the fullness of truth is found in Christ.

In Chapter 12, Tertullian explains that truth should be sought among “our own” by appealing to the rule of faith. In Chapter 13, Tertullian explains what this rule of faith is,

there is one only God, and that He is none other than the Creator of the world, who produced all things out of nothing through His own Word, first of all sent forth; that this Word is called His Son, and, under the name of God, was seen in diverse manners by the patriarchs, heard at all times in the prophets, at last brought down by the Spirit and Power of the Father into the Virgin Mary, was made flesh in her womb, and, being born of her, went forth as Jesus Christ; thenceforth He preached the new law and the new promise of the kingdom of heaven, worked miracles; having been crucified, He rose again the third day; (then) having ascended into the heavens, He sat at the right hand of the Father; sent instead of Himself the Power of the Holy Ghost to lead such as believe; will come with glory to take the saints to the enjoyment of everlasting life and of the heavenly promises, and to condemn the wicked to everlasting fire, after the resurrection of both these classes shall have happened, together with the restoration of their flesh. This rule, as it will be proved, was taught by Christ, and raises among ourselves no other questions than those which heresies introduce, and which make men heretics.

This is the rule of faith that has been passed down from Christ to the Apostles and the Apostles to churches. Chapters 14-19 explain Gnostics twist the Scriptures and have no right to them because (19),

For wherever it shall be manifest that the true Christian rule and faith shall be, there will likewise be the true Scriptures and expositions thereof, and all the Christian traditions.

In this Chapter 19 of the Prescriptions the rule refers to the proclamation of the Apostolic preaching. In Chapter 21, however, Tertullian redefines this rule to refer to communion with Apostolic churches (at this point, not explicitly bishops). The Lord taught the Apostles and the Apostles established churches at Jesus’ command. These Apostles faithfully transmitted the Gospel in their fullness to the churches (Ch. 22-26). Thus, if the Apostles publicly and thoroughly proclaimed the Gospel, it is inconceivable that the churches would immediately lose their teaching. It is true that the Galatians and the Corinthians did corrupt the faith early, however, they were corrected by the Apostles (Ch. 27). Tertullian grants for the sake of argument that the Apostles teaching was corrupted (also ignoring the promise of Christ to protect the Church), but then how can it explain the universal teaching of the Church (Ch. 28)?  Continuing the thought experiment that the orthodox churches corrupted the Gospel, Tertullian then facetiously agrees that truth had to wait for Marcion and Valentinus in the second century to be rescued from corruption. Yet, how then can error precede corruption (29; 31)? It cannot be so because error always perverts the original. This is why Paul instructs people not to believe another Gospel other than the one he taught in the churches—even if an angel of heaven presented it. Marcion and Valentinus, however, are not angels but morally corrupt men from recent times (Ch. 30).

In Chapter 32, Tertullian taunts the Gnostics to make a claim to apostolic teaching. Gnostics cannot show their churches were apostolically assigned, however, as churches like Rome can. Rome has the provenance of three apostles, Peter, Paul, & John.

Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [that first bishop of theirs ] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men,— a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter. In exactly the same way the other churches likewise exhibit (their several worthies), whom, as having been appointed to their episcopal places by apostles, they regard as transmitters of the apostolic seed. Let the heretics contrive something of the same kind.

None of the Gnostics can claim any connection to the apostles or “apostolic men.” Some churches without having a formal ecclesial connection to the Apostles, however, do possess apostolicity via their agreement in teaching.  Moreover, even if churches do not have connection to these apostolic men, they at least share the same faith and retain their apostolicity in this way, as he says,

To this test, therefore will they be submitted for proof by those churches, who, although they derive not their founder from apostles or apostolic men (as being of much later date, for they are in fact being founded daily), yet, since they agree in the same faith, they are accounted as not less apostolic because they are akin in doctrine.

The Gnostics, however, are condemned by Scripture in multiple places. Paul, for example, contends against those who deny the resurrection (Ch. 33). There is nothing in the Scriptures about the existence of two competing gods (Ch. 34). If the Gnostics want to claim apostolicity, they should be able to prove some sort of connection to the apostles, but they cannot do it. Conversely, the orthodox can trace their doctrine throughout the churches and in Scripture (Ch. 35).

This apostolic connection is widespread. Apostolic churches exist in Corinth, Philippi, Thessalonica, Ephesus, Rome—all of these locations retain the authentic apostolic writings and read them. All of these churches with the “very thrones of the Apostles” all confess the same faith (Ch. 36),

One Lord God does she acknowledge, the Creator of the universe, and Christ Jesus (born) of the Virgin Mary, the Son of God the Creator; and the Resurrection of the flesh; the law and the prophets she unites in one volume with the writings of evangelists and apostles, from which she drinks in her faith. This she seals with the water (of baptism), arrays with the Holy Ghost, feeds with the Eucharist, cheers with martyrdom, and against such a discipline thus (maintained) she admits no gainsayer.

It is not entirely clear what Tertullian means by the “thrones of the Apostles,” but he is undoubtedly referring to their apostolic authority residing in those cities that proclaims the apostolic faith.

Rejection of this apostolic faith (see definition above) disqualifies Marcion and Valentnius from possessing the Scriptures (Ch. 37). They belong to the church, not to men who reject the unanimous teaching of the apostolic churches and Scripture. Thus, the Gnostics continually corrupt Scripture and alter it, but the orthodox churches have received and retained the Scriptures in their entirety. Marcion perverts the text of Scripture “by hand” (removing Scripture) whereas Valentinus corrupts Scripture “by his exposition” (Ch. 38). This same pattern of textual corruption and misappropriation is found in Hosidius’s stories. The Gnostics do to Scripture what Hosidius does to Homer (Ch. 39).   In his final considerations, Tertullian concludes heretics are morally corrupt (Ch. 40-44) and are not concerned with the body of Christ.

S.L. Greenslade summarizes Irenaeus’s and Tertullian’s doctrine of Apostolic Succession thusly:

Above all, their [Irenaeus and Tertullian] concern is always for the preservation of true doctrine, the faith. They are only secondarily concerned with the means by which the institutional Church is maintained in being, though they are concerned with that, as a means to the main object. Secondly, the apostolic succession in question consists in the line of bishops in each local church, not a chain of consecrator and consecrated, which would give quite a different list. Apostolic succession always means the former in the early Church. Thirdly, there is no particular stress on their being bishops. The argument does not stand or fall by episcopacy, though certainly Tertullian takes it for granted. Irenaeus sometimes calls the successions ‘successions of presbyters.’ The essential point is that there should be an orderly succession of responsible ministers in each local church.

This understanding of the Church of the apostolic succession lent itself to something which was not, it seems, predominantly in the mind of Tertullian, and certainly not of Irenaeus, namely an institutionalism in which the notes of authority, fixity, and good churchmanship are emphasized at the expense of other, and perhaps more important, features of the Christian life..

Tertullian certainly believed it was the manner in which the Apostolic teaching was passed down in particular apostolic churches. However, the emphasis is always upon the apostolic teaching and continuity of this teaching, particularly as it relates to Gnosticism. This is why Tertullian even allows for an exception to tracing ordination to an apostle or an apostolic man—if they agree in doctrine. Bishops themselves may in fact fall into error, but that would not invalidate the apostolic teaching which is clearly taught in Scripture and widely maintained by churches established by the Apostles.

A contextual reading of Tertullian provides a far more nuanced reading than BOH offers. For example, after Tertullian proves the Gnostics do not have Apostolic origin because there founders are in the mid second century, Tertullian then takes the argument a step further, taunting the Gnostics to provide their connection to an apostolic church by way of a succession. BOH mistakenly summarizes Tertullian’s argument,

Tertullian is here saying that the way to distinguish heretics from the orthodox is to get out the records and see whose bishops can trace their succession back to the Apostles.

It is certainly not *the* way to distinguish the orthodox, because Tertullian has provided an extensive argument of which this argument is only a further supplement, and for which he even provides an exception when “non-aposotlic” churches agree with the orthodox churches in doctrine. In other words, this is an important way to distinguish heretics from the orthodox, but it is not the only or even the primary way.

BOH claims, however,

…if Tertullian believed that the Apostolic Churches of his time only happened to contain the Apostles’ doctrine, but were not necessarily the divinely authorized and divinely protected guardians and stewards of the deposit of faith, there would be no reason to point to the Apostolic Churches as the standard by which to locate the Apostles doctrine. Tertullian’s requirement that apostolic doctrine be determined by conformity to the doctrine taught in the Churches founded by the Apostles presupposes not only that the Apostles did not withhold any revealed doctrine from the bishops they ordained, but also that there is a divine promise of preservation of the faith among those having the succession from the Apostles. In other words, we see here implicitly in Tertullian the same notion in St. Irenaeus of a “charism of truth” that accompanies possessing the succession from the Apostles, in full communion with the successor of St. Peter.

This is an unnecessary step beyond what Tertullian actually says. For Tertullian, he is building an historical argument showing the orthodox churches in fact retain the Apostolic teaching.  He never appeals to a charism passed on to each bishop. Instead, he points out to the universal agreement of the churches founded by the Apostles (an important historical point) in addition to the written teaching of the Apostles (also an important historical point). He brilliantly draws the two arguments together by pointing out the churches that received apostolic writings have all retained the apostolic rule of faith. Of course, Tertullian believes the apostolic churches have been authorized to protect and guard the tradition, but he does not assume anything about a ‘charism of truth’ in the succession from the Apostles and he does not know anything of a successor of St. Peter. Such categories are being imposed on the text rather than being derived from it.

BOH goes on to claim,

If it does not come from the Apostles and those ordained by the Apostles, then it is ipso facto not to be received. This applies not only to teaching, but also to teachers and preachers.

This is, once again, an over-extension of Tertullian’s argument. Tertullian says nothing about successors of the Apostles or rejecting teachers “not sent and ordained by the Apostles.” The argument is rather that since the Apostles received their teaching from God, the teaching of the Apostles ought to be believed.  And since the Apostles publicly founded churches, and all those churches agree to the rule of faith, this testifies to the unified apostolic teaching retained in the churches. The universal agreement is “our witness of truth,” instead of ordination in the lines of the Apostles. That is not to say that this process of episcopal consecration is inconsequential to Tertullian, but it is *not* the substance of his argument.

Continuing, BOH claims,

Tertullian here shows that those who are not in communion with the Apostolic Churches have no right to appeal to Scripture to defend their positions, because the Scriptures belong to the bishops to whom the apostolic writings were entrusted by the Apostles. Since the Scriptures belong to the bishops, those not in communion with those bishops in the universal Church have no right to challenge what the bishops say that the Scriptures teach.

Tertullian’s argument is more precise than this. As he concludes his entire historical argument, he claims the apostolic churches, since they universally testify to the rule of faith (which he has just again summarized in Chapter 36), are the true heirs of apostolic teaching. The fact that the Gnostics reject this historical apostolic confession demonstrates they have no claim to handle the Scriptures because “they are not Christians.” The reason they are not Christians is not directly related to their “communion with those bishops,” but first and foremost because they reject the faith received by the apostolic churches.

BOH concludes its section on Irenaeus and Tertullian by summarizing their teaching on apostolic succesion,

It is an argument that reaches back into history in order to show why the normative way of determining the truth concerning the apostolic deposit is to unroll the lines of bishops, and see whose go back to the Apostles. Only those bishops have the divine authority from the Apostles to say what does or does not belong to the deposit of faith received from the Apostles.

As has been shown, this is simply not what Irenaeus or Tertullian actually say. They do assume the mechanism through which the apostolic tradition has been passed down is in the monarchical episcopate, however, as Greenslade notes, the argument is not dependent upon episcopacy or Roman notions of apostolic succession. In addition, while BOH has an entire section on Petrine Succession, none of it provides an argument of substance. Innuendo and vague allusions are used to claim that an author may possibly be referring to a distinctively Petrine succession in Rome.

iii. Brandon’s alleged bind

Rejection of the sacramental notion of Apostolic Succession places me in a bind, according to BOH, because it is inconsistent to hold my position and believe in a visible church. If there is no visible head, then it cannot be a Church, which, as I have argued, is a constituent component of Apostolic Succession for Rome. Of course, if there is no visible head in the Church and yet Jesus founded a church, then this would undercut BOH’s argument. It’s true that this affirmation introduces potential problems about identifying *where* the Church is, but if this is an issue in the institution of the Church it is better to deal with the limitations before us than then to invent solutions we believe to be better—all the while claiming they are divinely instituted.  Yet, even the dilemma that BOH proposes is once more not an accurate representation of my argument,

Brandon’s thesis is that the universal emergence of monarchical bishops in communion with the monarchical bishop of Rome was not a continuation of the apostolic hierarchy, but a corruption of an original parity of mere presbyters.

The language of “mere presbyters” is imprecise since in the Catholic paradigm my proposal is more akin to the church being governed by a plurality of bishops without jurisdictional authority. Moreover, the development of the monarchical episcopate may be judged to be a corruption by some (and it is by some in the PCA), but that is not what I have argued. I argued the monarchical episcopate developed organically from a presbyterial structure in the city of Rome (I even allowed caveats for more monarchical structures in places like Jerusalem). No value judgment is provided about whether or not this was a “corruption,” but it was simply argued as a point of history. BOH has imported theological categories into this historical observation which has distorted their understanding of my argument.

Another point here is that if Jesus did not have successors of the Apostles with the successor of Peter, then the church is visible, but not in the way BOH believes. Since I believe the church founded by Jesus is one governed by elders and deacons, I have no problem saying that the Church in the third and fourth centuries was the Church. In other words, this is only a problem if one assumes BOH’s definition of the Church necessarily existing with a visible head in succession from Peter. BOH may well believe that civil societies ought to be structured a certain way, but if Christ instituted something different, then it means either that BOH is using a faulty philosophical category or this philosophical category is being applied in a faulty manner to the institution established by Jesus.

BOH attempted to argue though, that my approach to the Fathers presented a methodological problem—either rejection of the Patristic witness or grand apostasy. BOH presents one paradigm while my position represents another. I do agree with this general assessment, but my assessment of the situation is much different. BOH represents one way to appropriate historical documents, to interpolate later conditions into earlier writings, or, the historical approach, of attempting to synthesize data and come up with the best possible reconstruction of how things came to be. One paradigm is certainly better than the other.

In addition, BOH’s criticism assumes that the earliest Fathers mean the same thing BOH does when writing about the monarchical episcopate and Apostolic Succession, and also assumes that my argument necessitate these later notions were, “founded upon a single primordial error.” I affirm there were historical inaccuracies that were enshrined, but I have not used such strong rhetoric to express this historical process. It may be apologetically advantageous for BOH to categorize my thesis in this way, but it does not present my argument in strength. This is why BOH’s next charge, that the church could “undergo a radical metamorphosis without any indication of struggle against such novelty seems incredible on its face,” is attacking a straw-man.

[1] http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/letters/2007/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20070527_china.html

[2]Paragraph 22. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_const_19641121_lumen-gentium_en.html

[3] For more information on this and even seeing Bryan and Michael Liccione admitting the non-existence of the papacy would undermine Catholic claims to succession here and here.

Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

The Original Challenge and Authority

Respect Scholar’s Authority

B. The Original Challenge and Authority

BOH claims that I was attempting to answer a previous challenge posted at CtC.  This is partially true, but I noted that the “challenge” had faulty assumptions loaded into it. It is simply not possible for a historian to prove a negative. Historians can only work on the level of the probable. If the first item allows this elasticity, then I believe my initial argument succeeds. Furthermore, I was seeking to contextualize the list of Irenaeus and explain it in its historical context.  What I concluded was Irenaeus’s list was pre-existing and composed c. 180 AD. Irenaeus used this list in explaining the public ministry of the Gospel that agreed in Rome (the immigrant capital of the empire) and throughout the empire. Thus the earlier evidence shows that the church was led by multiple presbyter-bishops into the second century (with no evidence any of them possessed “supreme jurisdictional authority”).

BOH claims, “all the appeals he makes to scholars turn out to reduce to an argument from authority.” BOH alleges that my utilization of scholarship is “ad hoc special pleading.” My choice not to interact with scholars that were unaware of developments in the social history of Rome, like Dix and Cirlot, is an example of this “special pleading” and that I am engaged in “counting contemporary academic noses.”

By way of response, I did attempt to retract my manner of expression because I did not want to merely dismiss Dix or Cirlot. They are capable scholars and ought to be respected as such, even though they were unable to draw conclusions based on some of the evidence from fractionation that is now in the academic literature. I state as much in Comment #169. Dix and Cirlot simply lived before all relevant data had been formed into the type of social history explored.  It is also worth noting, as I do in Comment #91, that Dix argues,

within the embryo ministry one *group* only was customarily charged with the ‘episcopal’ office at the eucharist which the others (viz. the deacons) did not fulfill…[Clement] assumes that a corporate presbytery exercising “episkope” was the original form of local church government…[1]

While Paul Owen provides some context to these quotes, they seem to only reinforce that even scholars such as Dix agree with substantial components of my thesis, namely, early governance was presbyterial.

Yet, evens if Dix agrees with important components of my thesis, it does not remove the substance of BOH’s argument. Appeals to academic consensus are the weakest form of human argument, but are even weaker considering the animus of the academy. A hermeneutic of discontinuity is preferred over against a theory of continuity. If evenly applied, according to BOH, it is acidic to the examination of the historical Jesus or the witness of the NT documents.

Personally, one of the things I am committed to as a Christian is the pursuit of truth, and therefore when similar standards are applied to NT documents, I evaluate those claims and respond based upon the quality of evidence. If there is a paradigmatic difference, I attempt to explain how the methodology I use leads to the truth in a superior way to a competing paradigm.

Moreover, one of the reasons the presence of scholarship was brought to bear is that claims were made at CtC about the scholarship related of Roman Christianity. Bernard Green, for example, supported the narrative of CtC. Upon examination, this turned out to be false. The further I investigated sources, the more they undermined the narrative propounded at CtC. I read and conversed with Mainline, Evangelical, Catholic, Orthodox, Reformed, and atheist scholars and continued to find resounding agreement about Roman ecclesiology. I wanted to share this information and also demonstrate that while the scholars I research disagreed on many things, they all agreed here. In an attempt to refocus upon the evidence itself, I will not mention scholarly consensus again.

BOH then claims that earlier data is given a priority in historical reconstruction. This is a generally sound principle, but then one must evaluate the reliability of particular historical periods. BOH assumes that “if all things are equal” you prefer the evidence from an earlier source—and this is generally agreeable—but *assume* that the testimony of Irenaeus is at least equal to the scholars assessing the data. That case needs to be made, not assumed. The opinion of the scholars is similar to that of a judge. The judge weighs to reliability of each witness, hears the evidence, compares competing claims, and makes a decision. The judge himself was not an eyewitness, but access to all of the data allows the judge to draw conclusions, some of which may entail that a witness was lying, mistaken, partially correct, or completely truthful. Responding that the judge was not an eyewitness is true, but it is immaterial to whether or not the judge is able to make a rational decision, a decision that perhaps even an eyewitness may not agree with.

[1] Paul Owen provides context to Dix’s statements in Comment #102 found here: http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2014/06/the-bishops-of-history-and-the-catholic-faith-a-reply-to-brandon-addison/#comment-106750

Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Evaluative Summary

'There's so little understanding. Why can't we all just get along?' 'Get a long what?'

VIII. Responding to the “Evaluative Summary”

A. Evaluation section

In this section, BOH seeks to tie everything together.  In beginning the section it continues to assert that *all* of the data is equally possible in the Catholic paradigm. Therefore, absolutely nothing in my article is evidence for my position. As I’ve noted earlier, this is not an appropriate methodological approach to historical data. Perhaps my analysis of the data is not persuasive, but that does not mean that I have not presented any evidence for my position. To claim otherwise is to deny the obvious.

BOH makes the claim that my initial article makes 5 “repeated mistakes.” The first mistake is

failing to recognize ways in which the data fits an alternative paradigm, and thus treating such data as evidence for his own position, in violation of the ILD principle.

To be clear, my claim has never been that competing narratives could not integrate the data I cite. I have argued that my narrative presents the most probable reconstruction of the evidence, but I am also willing to recognize where my narrative is wanting, incorrect, or unpersuasive. Claiming that because I find my view the best paradigm for interpreting the data does not mean that I do not recognize ways in which the data fits alternate paradigms or that I have violated the ILD principle. Just because each paradigm may agree to one degree or another “Rome was led by a plurality of presbyters” does not mean that each paradigm means the same thing or that each paradigm is equally likely. Assumptions to the contrary are simply that, assumptions.

Second, BOH claims I repeatedly make arguments from silence that do not satisfy all the conditions necessary for silence to carry evidential weight.  As I’ve demonstrated, this claim is often associated with misunderstanding of what the four conditions (i.e. contained to one author and/or time period) and BOH also often misidentifies arguments from silence. What is *actually* doing the work in each section is not silence, but what the evidence says.  In a historical case, if the evidence does not say or does not indicate “X” then it is not illegitimate to say that the likelihood of that paradigm is decreased with each absence. Such an approach is not an argument from silence, it is assessing the data to examine what it says. I’ve shown in each section what the data says and I have then attempted to integrate the facts into a narrative that makes the best sense of those facts. Just because BOH believes that the absence of evidence for its position does not falsify it (which is technically true) does not mean that the paradigm is likely, probable, or equally as viable as an alternative.

This misunderstanding, persists in BOH’s third criticism where I allegedly,

Restrict the scope of relevant data to create silence then using an argument from that constructed silence to infer discontinuity with proximate data, in violation of the fourth principle we laid out above… He does this as well by arbitrarily limiting the relevant data regarding the polity of the early Church in Rome only to five patristic texts composed prior to AD 165, and then using arguments from non-evidential silence in those texts to discredit and reject positive data from both the second half of the second century, and from the early third century, that fills in the silence of those earlier works concerning the succession of bishops from St. Peter

A few factual errors of note. First, cited evidence from as late as the third century. Perhaps I was not clear enough in the summary of Allen Brent’s article, but I hope that I have clarified it in my response. The data from Hegesippus and Irenaeus is from c. 180, after 165 AD, as well. Moreover, in dealing with the comments from Irenaeus, a proposal was made for why the identification of this line had come to be seen as the episcopal bearer of Apostolic tradition—the pre-existing office of the minister of external affairs had begun to coalesce power. With Irenaeus we begin to see this process completing, and this explains the subsequent centuries (mainly Eusebius’s) assumptions about the earliest ecclesial structure.

Furthermore, the data is not been “restricted” but it has been sifted and evaluated. As I’ve noted in other sections, one of the fatal flaws of BOH’s approach is the poor assessment of sources. If I have incorrectly weighed the evidence, then that is a matter I am willing to consider. But that requires an evaluation of sources and evidence that is a critical lacuna throughout BOH. In other words, BOH may hold the correct position, but their critique badly misses the mark. Instead of arguing substance, they have argued about supposed methodological problems and about how I have been “arbitrarily” sifting the evidence.

To be clear, I adopt a methodological position that the earliest evidence is clear enough to provide an indication of the ecclesial structure of the church and also show the precursors to development that is eventually full blown in the third century. For me, I am not dismissing the third century evidence, instead; I claim to have explained its existence a path of development from earlier evidence. I may be incorrect about this, but I am not being “arbitrary” nor am I “adopting positivist methodology” that “treats anything outside the stipulated temporary scope as untrustworthy.” Whatever the reason for BOH’s accusations (misunderstanding, my poor communication, etc), they do not address the argument I made nor do they demonstrate that I have adopted a positivist methodology. They have only made broad-brush assertions that are unsubstantiated (such as uncharitably abstracting the summary of my argument [cf. fn 259] as an example of “positivist” methodology).

Fourth, BOH also accuses me of selectively using data.  For example, I cite Jerome’s comments that “all presbyters were bishops” to highlight a fact about the earliest polity according to Jerome. It is a fascinating comment about the earliest ecclesiology because Jerome knows of development in the earliest ecclesial structure—corroborating evidence for my theory. They claim it is selective to highlight this piece of evidence but not rely upon Ignatius’s testimony in the early first century. In response, I admit that Ignatius *does* provide evidence for a threefold office very early in the church—a concession BOH, for some reason, found objectionable. I attempted to explain why Ignatius’s comments, however, can be explained through analysis of the historical situation and other texts in the same region within the same general time frame. The evidential value of Jerome is that he corroborates the exegetical argument I had made earlier in the canonical section about presbyters being coextensive with bishops. Jerome’s point is that at first there was no distinction between a presbyter and a bishop and this is a testimony to the very argument I made. It is not accurate to claim I pitted Jerome or Ignatius *against* one another. I simply evaluated what each source said and attempted to incorporate each author into my narrative.

BOH also finds it inconsistent for me to cite Hermas’s comments on the ecclesial structure of the Roman church while not sharing his belief regarding “communion of the saints.” Perhaps there is something missing in this section to account for this, but no standard of fairness requires someone to adopt another’s beliefs to understand their historical situation. I would think BOH does not agree with Hermas on post-baptismal repentance, but they can still claim there is legitimate historical information about the faith that can be understood from the Shepherd.

Additionally, BOH reiterates an argument made by Paul Owen. If I applied the standard I do to Ignatius to the book of Revelation, then we may conclude that there were no church leaders in any of the churches.  I attempted to explain at the time that this was a very odd example, because we have earlier testimony confirming that the pattern was to established elders in every city. My argument was never that there were no leaders in documents that did not reference church leadership, like Ignatius’s letter the Romans, but rather that it does not appear there was a monarchical bishop with supreme jurisdictional authority. The same sort of logic applies to Romans 16.

Fifth, BOH claims I presupposed something uniquely Protestant: that lexicons are important tools in defining words. I do *not* believe this is distinctively Protestant, because there are far too many skilled and capable Catholic linguists. In my estimation, nothing about consulting a lexicon necessitates rejecting the tradition of the Church or that the tradition of the church has nothing to teach us. The point under dispute was whether or not Matthais possessed a particular episcopal office. Thankfully Dr. Owen engaged the issue and he even properly noted that the issue itself was not resolvable by a lexicon, which is true.

BOH also makes the persistent claim that my article is largely an argument from silence. For example, BOH states,

The silence on which Brandon seeks to build a case against monepiscopacy in Rome is a “slim” silence due to the small pool of data. In sum, once the terminological issues are addressed and the monepiscopate is considered in relation to the three-fold office of Apostle, bishop-presbyter, and deacon (as preserving this three-fold structure), Brandon’s case is reducible to an argument from silence during a roughly one hundred year period for which we have very little documentary evidence of any kind, let alone documentary evidence intended to address polity in Rome during this period.

Consider the following “paucity” of evidence I considered in my article: Philippians, 1 Timothy, Titus, Hebrews, Acts, 1 Peter, [James could be noted even though it is not noted in the article], Clement of Rome, Shepherd of Hermas, Ignatius of Antioch, Hegesippus, Irenaeus, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, and Hippolytus among other sources. All of these sources help to established various components of my argument and shed important light on ecclesial structure from varying vantage points. Nontheless, BOH concludes,

Unfortunately for his argument and his own ecclesiology, the strength of this point as an argument against an early Roman episcopacy is equivalent to its strength as an argument against an early Roman presbyterate.

This is quite a curious claim, considering that all of the sources listed above note leadership by multiple presbyter-bishops in Rome. The difference, as far as I can tell, between the case for a Roman episcopacy and the case for a Roman presbyterate is that one relies upon innuendo and “suggestive” possibilities to “eliminate the gap,” where the other can appeal to a contiguous narrative and explain development into a new form of government.

Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

The Paradigmatic Bishops of History-Final note on Fractionation


'We still have a few minor issues to work out: I want a huge wedding and he wants to be single.'
Truly compatible?

d. Conclusions

BOH concludes that it has successful proposed a model of fractionation that is amenable to its narrative of history. Yet, BOH makes what is, in my opinion, a schizophrenic statement,

According to this account, the apostles first ordained bishops and deacons, just as St. Clement describes, and then as the apostles died off, these bishops ordained mere presbyters to assist them, and preserve the threefold order that had existed under the apostles. Conceptually, even the development of jurisdictional monepiscopacy would not be contrary to Catholic orthodoxy.

If the notion of jurisdictional monepiscopacy could develop, then I do not know how BOH can retain it’s argument.  The point being argued by every scholar I cited is that the original model of government was the presbyter-bishops were equals and that the notion of one of them possessing “jurisdictional authority” over another was the development of the monarchical episcopate. My argument has been that the title “presbyter” and “bishop” were interchangeable and only later came to distinguish one office from another. There was no such thing in the earliest polity of a “mere” presbyter. And if BOH concedes that among these presbyter-bishops none of them had “jurisdictional authority” over another, then this serves to negate the idea that a Petrine office had been handed on to successors, for none of them, in themselves, would have been the “principle of unity” of the Church. Perhaps BOH means something much more restricted than I do when I speak of development.

BOH is citing an article by Tim Troutman about Holy Orders and the Sacrificial Priesthood where the article concludes,

We argued that presbyterial ordinations were unheard of in the early Church, and explained that the titles of archbishop and cardinal do not constitute additions to the apostolic three-tier hierarchy of the clergy. Historical evidence confirms that the Catholic hierarchy, as it has developed, is compatible with the early Church.

Christian communities that lack the monepiscopal hierarchy cannot support their divergence from ancient tradition either by the authority of the Church Fathers or even by the Scriptures. On the contrary, the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout the ages have been under the authority of particular Churches that preserve this apostolic foundation of Church hierarchy. Common to Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans, this hierarchy alone represents a coherent interpretation of the New Testament and early Church evidence.

Much of the material from BOH is borrowed from this post (much of it almost verbatim). It is clear that Tim is arguing here strongly for monepiscopcal authority, but he does leave open the possibility for a form of plurality. He says,

If original presbyterial government means simply that presbyters were sometimes referred to as bishops (and vice versa), it might be a matter of semantics. But if one means that the episcopacy is an innovation by a generation subsequent to the apostolic age and that it rose from a system of collegial leadership, this opinion is not supported by the evidence. It is also possible that St. Jerome did, in fact, believe that the distinction between bishop and presbyter was of ecclesial and not divine origin. In this case, he would simply have been mistaken, although there are good reasons to believe that he understood, as the Catholic Church does, the distinction of orders to be of divine origin.

In other words, what Tim is proposing is that it is possible that the original polity may have been such where presbyter=bishop (and there seems to be a tactic admission Jerome may in fact be saying this, contra BOH’s comments in the Clement section). According to Tim, however, the time frame for this possibility is constricted until the death the last Apostole because monepiscopal government must be of divine and not “eccleisal” origin. Roman Catholic historians would probably object to the distinction between divine and ecclesial origin, but this reinforces that for CtC, development is not an acceptable option for jurisdictional authority and monarchical episcopacy.

Thus, my judgment is that BOH is ambiguous when it claims that plurality of leadership is consistent with a monarchical episcopate and that the “development of jurisdictional authority is not contrary to Catholic orthodoxy.” In point of fact, BOH believes that this development cannot have occurred after the death of Peter (c. 65). In order for the development to be “divine” it needs to come from the Apostles, but the evidence in this fractionation section provides substantial evidence that supreme jurisdictional authority is an “ecclesial development.”

I must once again *emphatically* deny the suggestion that this was a “primordial” “catastrophic” error and that it means there must have been a “grand conspiracy comparable to getting all the employees of NASA to fake the Moon landing, and no one coming forward to reveal it, and no outsider finding out.” This development was organic, slow-moving, and took decades and decades to coalesce. Some may see this development as God forsaking the church, but a significant number see it as God’s providential hand guiding the Church through his Spirit. BOH may protest that it’s either it’s narrative or we are “to be pitied above all men,” but while the evidence may undermine BOH’s expression of Catholicism, it does not undermine Catholicism en toto or Christianity.

Bishops of History Response, Catholicism, Fractionation

The Paradimatic Bishops of History-Fractionation & House Churches


C. Fractionation and House Churches

One of the things that I willingly concede is that fractionation does not necessarily preclude a monarchical bishop existing in some capacity. This is used against me in BOH,

Brandon thus grants that “the existence of house churches does not rule out the possibility of oversight of a bishop.” His argument, however, is that the data points to there being a plurality of leaders. Of course, Catholics too grant that there were a plurality of leaders. So again this is not evidence for the presbyterial thesis and against there being an episcopal polity in the Church at Rome.

BOH is equivocating on my use of the word “plurality of leadership,” to show that we would expect the same sort of thing according to the CtC argument. My argument has been there were multiple presbyter-bishops in Rome, each overseeing a house community.  These presbyter-bishops were in communion with one another and they may have even elected a president, but this individual does not appear to have “jurisdictional authority” let alone “supreme” jurisdictional authority. As a matter of fact, I don’t believe there is any reason to believe that the earliest Roman Christians would have known what such a term even meant.

BOH is arguing, however, that there was a bishop with supreme jurisdictional authority over everyone else in the city. The type of plurality I am advocating rejects that there was one of the many bishops retaining “supreme jurisdictional authority.”  BOH argues that its position could also account for plurality with either multiple presbyters & a bishop *or* multiple presbyter-bishops. An essential element of the argument, though, is that in this plurality there is one ruler with supreme jurisdictional authority. If no leader possessed supreme-jurisdictional authority, however, then there was a process of development where this authority was procured. It may have been with the consent of the church, but the plurality I am referring to is not consonant with the plurality BOH is proposing.

BOH then argues,

So if the presence of active house churches in Rome were actually evidence of there being no monarchical bishop in Rome, then the presence of house churches from AD 150 to 312 would be evidence that there was no monarchical bishop in Rome from AD 150 to 312. But we know (and Brandon agrees) that there was a monarchical bishop in Rome from AD 150 to 312. Therefore, the existence of house churches in Rome in the late first and early second centuries is not evidence that there was no monarchical bishop in Rome during that time.

Such a statement misappropriates my argument of the existence of house churches, and the rather important differences in church property from 150 to 312. Into the third century corporate property rights did not exist in Rome. Even if there were a monarchical bishop, he would not have had any control over the property because it belonged to the property owner. Lampe adduces multiple pieces of evidence to demonstrate this: the titular churches of Tigrida, Byzas, & Equitis were not Roman saints or martyrs (later their names were exchanged for the name of saints), at the 499 Roman synod Roman presbyters still signed their names with the “tituli of person X,” in the 4th and 5th centuries churches retained the tradition of naming title churches after founders (pg. 363). Interestingly, in the city of Rome, Jewish property and synagogue meetings fell under the same structure; private individuals provided the worshiping space (pg. 364).

In the third century, the church was able to hold corporate property and thus powerful bishops were able to exert considerable influence over the churches in the city. Concurrent social, political, and theological events made corporate property particularly advantageous for the flourishing of the monarchical episcopate. As the house-churches became property of the church, the bishop was able to exert control of those communities because he was the administrator of the property (According to Lampe this political reality was a function of the monarchical episcopate, and therefore the monarchical episcopate probably existed before this legal change).  Before the advent of corporate property, however, it was impossible for a monarchical bishop to control the worship space because he was not the property owner. This marks a significant difference in the two time periods.

BOH nontheless tries to draw a comparison between the two different time periods,

Moreover, in AD 336 there were at least twenty eight house churches under Pope St. Julius I, again confirming that the presence of house churches in a city is fully compatible with the existence of a jurisdictional monepiscopacy in that city, and that the existence of house churches in Rome in the late first and early second centuries is not evidence for the non-existence of a monarchical bishop during that time period.

There is no argument that I am aware of that states that because there were multiple worshiping assemblies, therefore there was no monarchical bishop. The argument is that the separate worshiping communities met in the private homes of patrons and that there was a “presider” (proestos) of the worship service that conducted worship services, as Justin Martyr reports. This is what Justin reports and comports with the fractionation of Roman Jewry and Romans 16. These separate communities seemed to operate with a sense of catholicity but also operated with significant autonomy—something that was reinforced by the social realities of first and second century Rome.

At this point, BOH turns its focus to its own positive reconstruction of the data of fractionation and argues that it is an example of diocesan parishes. To do so, BOH seeks to appeal to the legendary material (which Lampe calls weak when considered on its own) which refers to an episcopal chair (the Petrine nature of this chair is a later interpolation). BOH also references the division of the parishes in Rome detailed in the Liber Pontificalis in the fifth or sixth century. The fact that there are multiple parishes under a bishop in this later time shows that it is possible that plurality could exist with a monarchical bishop in the first and second century, according to BOH.

By way of response, I would simply encourage interested parties to consult Lampe’s utilization of this data. No one has argued that the existence of multiple locations of worship made it impossible for a monarchical bishop to be present. The lack of understanding from BOH is highlighted in their citation of St. Caius, bishop from 283-296. Caius “lived at least some of his pontificate in his own house.” After noting that there was no central cathedral for worship, BOH concludes,

For this reason, from AD 150 to the time of Constantine, a period of 161 years during which Brandon acknowledges there was a monepiscopacy in Rome, each bishop of Rome lived either in a house or a house-church that had been dedicated secretly by the Christians as a church, and carried out his episcopal function from that ‘fractionated’ condition.

No one ever disputed that bishops lived in houses or operated out of a house church. The point BOH misses is that property was granted to the bishop for his oversight, whereas before the third century in Rome, there would have been no way for a bishop to exercise any oversight of such land, because it would have been the private dwelling of an individual. BOH’s failure to distinguish the social realities renders the comparison moot.

BOH claims additional evidence can be found in the “Apostolic Tradition,” dating the document to 215 AD, but this is highly problematic. Regarding the dating of the document, Catholic scholar J.F. Baldovin explains,

When I was a student, the commonly accepted opinion on the Apostolic Tradition ran something like this: Here we have a church order that gives us data on important ecclesiastical practices from the early-third century. The writer was a presbyter/theologian, named Hippolytus, who opposed Bishop Callistus of Rome over the latter’s laxity in readmitting sinners to church fellowship. He thus became a schismatic anti-pope, but was reconciled before his death as a martyr. A conservative, he advocated ancient usages of the Church. A crusty old parish priest unwilling to abide by his bishop’s liturgical innovations, he set down in a single document these rather antiquarian rules for liturgy and church conduct.

Nothing about this synthesis is correct. The title of the document in question is not the Apostolic Tradition. It cannot be attributed to Hippolytus, an author whose corpus of biblical commentaries and anti-heretical treatises is somewhat well known. As a matter of fact it is even doubtful whether the corpus of that writer can actually be attributed to a single writer. Finally, the document does not give us certain information about the liturgical practice of the early-third-century Roman Church.[1]

Baldovin goes on to explain skepticism is attributable to the dating and reliability of the statute of “Hippolytus” and the internal evidence of multiple  redactors. Marcel Metzger, Allen Brent, Alistair Stewart-Sykes, Paul Bradshaw, Maxwell Johnson, and L. Edward Phillips (the latter three wrote the Hermenia commentary together) all provide the extensive detail of the dating in their writings and cite additional scholarship on dating issues. Conservative estimates, like Brent’s, postulate an early composition, potentially by Hippolytus, that has seen updating and redaction and located in Rome (this reading though is largely predicated on his thesis of fractionation and the development of the episcopate in the third century). Aside from the serious textual problems and clear redaction in the document, others, argue the Tradition is not uniquely Roman and a composition from several centuries.

Bradshaw et al. explain,

we judge the work to be an aggregation of material from different sources quite possibly arising from different geographical regions and probably from different historical periods, from perhaps as early as the mid-second century to as late as the mid-fourth since none of the textual witnesses to it can be dated with any certainty before the last quarter of that century[2]

The dating in this regard is important because BOH presupposes an earlier date for its argument. Even if we grant the early date, this still does not mean that third century fractionation is equivalent to first and second century fractionation.  The equivalence is merely asserted even though numerous developments (social, theological, & political) have occurred in the time frame which provide reason to avoid lumping them together.

BOH also appeals to the catacombs, but I don’t wish to rehash that section here. I covered it in my review of Lampe and Lampe’s 12th chapter provides sound historical judgments on the catacombs and what can be drawn from them. The fact is that we can know with certainty that the tombs at the Vatican were not used until the very end of the first century, and quite possibly the beginning of the second century. As a matter of fact, Lampe notes,

For Christians a grave was inviolable and worth of honor. But we only find real veneration for martyrs from the middle of the third century onwards (p. 115).

If this is the case, what about the Martyrdom of Ignatius, that is cited? We have numerous textual issues with this issue and even the Catholic Encyclopedia concludes,

It is generally admitted, even by those who regarded it as authentic, that this work has been greatly interpolated.

Paul Hartog skillfully argues that the Martyrdom may be dated in the later portion of the second century, but he admits two important things. First, the current text does have redaction and second, the purported remains of Peter only surface in the second century (p. 181).In other words, the veneration of the dead is *also* a development.

Such an observation is important to consider when BOH claims,

Another piece of evidence is found in relation to the tombs of the leaders of the Church at Rome. What we do not find in the tombs is evidence that at any time in the history of the Church at Rome, including prior to AD 150, there were at the same time multiple leaders of equal supreme authority and honor. There is no burial record of two or more presbyter-bishops that had served simultaneously with equal supreme authority, and whose tombs were subsequently honored and memorialized equally by the Church at Rome…The Liber Pontificalis records not only that St. Peter was buried in the Vatican necropolis, but also that eleven of the thirteen popes of the first two centuries were buried there as well:

BOH is correct to note there is no veneration of multiple-presbyter bishops in Rome. BOH is incorrect, however, that we know much of anything about the burial of first century “bishops.” To put it bluntly, archaeology has proven the Liber Pontificalis is wrong. We know for certain that Zephyrinus and Callistus were not buried by “Peter” at the Vatican site, as Lampe demonstrates. Furthermore, even if the Liber Pontificalis were not inaccurate, the existence of the graves near the alleged gravesite of Peter says nothing about these men, “carrying on the office of St. Peter.”

The truth of the matter is Christians in Rome accepted legends as history. There are perhaps kernels of truth in the narrative, but the site labelled as Peter’s gravesite is, with a high degree of certainty, not Peter’s.  Lampe provides a potential historical explanation for what happened based on the archaeology of the area which attempts to account for all the facts. In tying in the house churches with the burial grounds, BOH does not interact with Lampe’s detailed study showing that the Roman Christians maintained the graves of their own particular region of the city.

Finally, I’ve noted it in this section and elsewhere, but an additional methodological problem for BOH is that it is using dubious sources. In this section, much of the rebuttal is based upon testimony from Eusebius, The Apostolic Constitutions, and the Martyrdom of Polycarp. BOH would improve its argument with a critical assessment of sources. As it stands, however, BOH has not offered a strong argument because it has relied upon questionable sources and consequently has provided a questionable narrative.

[1] J.F. Baldovin. “Hippolytus and the Apostolic Tradition: Recent research and commentary” Theological Studies Vol 64:3 (2003): 520-521.

[2] Paul Bradshaw et al., “The Apostolic Tradition” Hermeneia (2002) pg. 14.