When I wrote my initial article I had envisioned that a substantive response would be required, but I would not have imagined that length of the response composed. For those tracking with the discussion, you’ve read nearly 200 pages worth of text about some very technical historical and philosophical arguments. I hesitate to add to that growing number and to add to the exasperation of lurkers and those studying the issue, but I think it will be wise to highlight why the lengthy response from Called to Communion may be intimidating but ultimately misses the mark.
I intend on offering responses to each portion of the review article, but this will be a slow and arduous process for two reasons. The first is that I don’t have the time I would like to devote to these questions. The second is that when issues of this importance and magnitude are discussed, it is very important to take time to read and understand that other person. I’ve attempted to read and re-read the response so that my initial prejudices against it were tempered. I won’t assume that I’ve perfectly done so, but I prefer to take time to chew on material than offer quick responses which leave little time for reflection on what the other side has argued or whether or not I am presenting my arguments in a way that is appropriate.
In terms of my approach I will begin by analyzing how the texts that I cited in my original article have been responded to. As I set out to respond, I don’t really intend on responding in much detail to the methodological problems by focusing upon the philosophical grounding of historiography. Instead, I’d like to address those issues by working through the texts discussed to arbitrate between me alleged “selective use of evidence” and my accusation of the response article’s incipient anachronism. There is a possibility that as I construct each response that I will see the need for a more substantive methodological discussion, but I believe that a bottom up approach will bring more clarity to the differences in interpretation and to which methodology renders the most accurate exegetical conclusions.
With that out-of-the-way, I would like to begin analyzing the response article by looking at 1 Clement. It may seem odd to start with Clement when in my article I started with the biblical literature first, but the reason for this is that if I can demonstrate an anachronism in the use of the fathers, then when we come back to the biblical writers this anachronism will be even more apparent.
A brief word before getting into the substance of the CtC’s response; it is grammatically ambiguous who Clement is referring to in 1 Clem. 44:2 “They appointed.” Who is the subject doing the “appointing?” There are three possible interpretations: i. The apostles are the subject who ordain those to succeed them ii. The bishops and deacons appointed were given apostolic prerogative to ordain others by the Apostles iii. Bishops and deacons are the subject and were to be succeeded if they should die by election of the presbytery and congregation.
The way Eric Jay describes the situation the first two support an “episcopal” position (though I don’t think that even if the first two interpretations are to be preferred that the presbyterian view would not be able to seamlessly integrate them) and the third the presbyterian position. After weighing the exegetical possibilities it’s true that each one is grammatically possible, but Jay, following the interpretation of Cyril Richardson concludes,
It has to be said that Clement is not attempting to state a precise doctrine of structure of ministry. His point is that when presbyters have been appointed as the apostles laid down (however that may be conceived), it is wrong to depose them if their ministry has been conscientious and effective. His purpose is to plead for the stability of the presbyterial system in Corinth…episcopalian though I am, I prefer the [presbyterial model]. Had Clement known of a decision by the apostles to initiate a succession through a series of men regarded as ranking with themselves, by whom alone other minsters as well as their own successors could legitimately be ordained, he would surely have written more precisely.
Jay’s point is that if the hierarchical structure of the episcopate was in place as asserted by Dix (and the response article), then why does Clement not simply point to this rupture as the simple solution to this breach of Apostolic Succession? This is not merely an argument from silence. This is an evaluation of Clement’s argument against the usurpers, and that argument not only does not mention episcopal structure, it provides a completely different picture of succession and ordination.
The response article claims that I make multiple claims, but the first that is addressed is the equivalence of presbuteroi and episkopoi. The response article responds,
Merely because St. Clement notes that the Apostles appointed bishops and deacons, it does not follow that St. Clement believed that there are only two grades of Holy Orders: the episcopate and the diaconate. That is because by the instructions of the Apostles, presbyter-bishops could subsequently ordain mere presbyters, and in this way the second grade of Orders was and is contained in the third grade of Orders.
This sort of unfortunate response saturates the response article. The response article continually misapplies my utilization of evidence by making the citation of one piece of evidence carry the evidential weight of the entire case, but this is not how historians conduct their work. History is an inductive exercise which is largely focused on presenting the most probable course of events. One of the considerations of fact in this case is that Clement does not anywhere speak of a distinction between presbyters or bishops.
My point is that in the letter, Clement only speaks of two orders, bishops and deacons (more on the supposed connection to the Levitical priesthood in a moment). This is simply a matter of fact. When you consider that in concert with the fact that Clement continually refers to bishops and deacons in the plural, this lends further credibility to the notion that Clement is working with a twofold understanding of church office. That becomes even more likely when we consider that Clement uses the terms presbyter and bishop synonymously (again in the plural), in 44:3-4.
Even though this distinction is not present in Clement, where does the notion that a distinction between presbyter and bishop exists? An appeal is made to Jerome (347-420). That would be an anachronism in its own right, but the appeal to Jerome actually undermines the argument. Citing Dolan in my article I noted the significance of Jerome in this discussion,
It would appear that St. Jerome in the fourth century unwittingly laid the foundation when he wrote a defense of the presbyterate against the arrogance and abuses of certain Roman deacons. In order to restore the presbyterate its rightful place and authority Jerome pointed out that in the very early days of the Church the terms episcopus and presbyter signified the same individuals. In other words, as we interpret Jerome all were bishops in the sense in which this word is understood today, with full powers to confirm and ordain. But when the universal monarchical episcopate was introduced into the government of the Church only the chief priests who were subjected to him (in other words, the presbyters) were given only a limited or restricted share in the power of the priesthood.
Jerome is making precisely the point that I’m making about Clement. It’s not only that presbyter=bishop, it is also that bishop=presbyter. And to contextualize this, Dolan is writing at the CUA in 1950 about consensus within the Roman Catholic Church on early ecclesial structure. According to Dolan, Jerome’s comments were a significant reason that the majority of Roman Catholic scholars believed that the episcopate developed.
The response article on the other hand, argues that Jerome undergirds their distinction (which, again, using Jerome in this manner is anachronistic). But all one needs to do is set the claims of the response article and the comments of Jerome side by side to see the blatant contradiction
Only if necessarily all bishops are presbyters, and all presbyters are bishops, would there be no semantic distinction between the two terms.
In writing both to Titus and to Timothy the apostle speaks of the ordination of bishops and of deacons, but says not a word of the ordination of presbyters; for the fact is that the word bishops includes presbyters also.
Jerome’s argument is that all presbyters are bishops, and thus, there is no semantic distinction between the two, according to Jerome. The office of the presbyterate is to be revered because it was initially part of the episcopate, which is above the diaconate. In order for the response article to make sense, it would have to claim that Jerome is claiming that not all presbyters are bishops, but that flatly contradicts what Jerome says explicitly and would completely undermine his argument. My argument is not built upon “an assumption that there cannot be two ways of being a presbyter,” it is built upon exegesis of the relevant data. The response article on the other hand has “presupposed precisely what is in question.”
Not so, says the response article. The distinction is found in Clement’s citation of the OT priesthood. It is argued,
In laying out the three-fold order in the Old Covenant, St. Clement is *subtly* teaching what is part of the Tradition passed down in the Church Fathers, namely, that Christ the new Moses established in His New Covenant three different grades of Holy Orders: new high priests, new priests, and new Levites.
Where is this subtlety detected and how do we find it? As the Eric G Jay notes, however, this sort of argument (and in his article he is interacting with Dix’s assertions) does not work. He says,
What militates against Dix’s assumption that in section 40 Clement is drawing a close analogy between the threefold Jewish hierarchy and a Christian ministry of bishops, presbyters, and deacons is that Clement immediately (41) goes on to speak of the temple cult in considerable detail—detail which has little, if any, relevance to Christian worship: continual daily sacrifices, freewill offerings, sin offerings, trespass offerings, the inspection of victims for blemishes. Sections 40-41 are to be understood as Clement’s final example of the divine will for orderliness.
[Note Bene: In a fascinating footnote from this same page Jay cites Dix who admits,
[Clement] assumes that a corporate presbytery exercising “episkope” was the original form of local church government [Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy London, 1945, pg. 257]
And earlier Dix states,
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 [pg. 247]te>
These admissions from Dix were unexpected to me, but we must now include Dix in that company of scholars who are imbibing higher-critical scholarship and making faulty conclusions from silence. This list of experts committing these errors continues to expand]
In order to see it in Clement, the article cites from the Apostolic Constitutions (mid 4th century), Jerome (late 4th early 5th century), and the Scottish Catechism of Aberdeen (19th century). This is the sort of methodological anachronism that unfortunately plagues this article. Other potential allusions are cited, another vague possibility in the Didache concerning the “high priests,” a reference to a bishop being like the high priest, and the elders similar to those chosen by Moses which is later echoed in the Teaching of the Apostles, from later in the third century. No one disputes that this connection began to be used to support the threefold division of minister, but the question is whether or not it is present in Clement. The article’s argument that there are multiple types of bishops and presbyters in Rome is ultimately dependent upon significantly later evidence, making the argument anachronistic.
Nevertheless, the conclusion is asserted,
So the data Brandon cites is not evidence that “For Clement there are [only] two orders,” not only because that conclusion does not follow from what St. Clement says, and not only because the second grade of Orders is contained in the third, but also because St. Clement himself alludes to there being three orders, and positive evidence trumps the argument from silence, as we explained above in our discussion of important preliminary principles of historical inquiry.
St. Clement only mentions two orders, never mentions a distinction between presbyters and bishops and uses the words synonymously in his letter. Moreover, Eric Jay notes,
If there had been such a man of Apostolic rank in Corinth or its region, the letter would surely somewhere have reminded him of his responsibility.
The response article wants to retort that just because the terms are used synonymously in the letter doesn’t mean that there was not a distinction between presbyters and bishops. It states,
For example, just because when speaking of humans we refer to ourselves as mammals, it does not follow that we believe that the term ‘human’ is equivalent to the term ‘mammal.’ Again on account of the ILD principle, the data is not evidence for Brandon’s claim.
This is supposedly a place where I have violated the “ILD principle,” but that is faulty for numerous reasons. First, it is a matter of subjective opinion. Is the data really inscrutable? On whose account? Certainly not on mine or the myriad of experts cited. Second, there is a perceptible distinction between a mammal and a human. No one has disputed the conceptual possibility of distinction between a presbyter or a bishop, the question is whether or not such a distinction existed. My reasons have been textually grounded and reasoned. The response article’s reasons are grounded upon later distinctions outside of the text, in sources like Jerome that are far removed from the events themselves and in the case of Jerome, undermining the response’s argument.
What is doing all the argumentative work here, for Brandon, is an argument from silence, namely, that because St. Clement does not identify or name a single ruling bishop of the Church at Corinth, therefore, there was none, and all the Corinthian presbyter-bishops equally shared supreme jurisdictional authority, and the office of mere presbyter was not only not filled, it was not even possible. But that is not a good argument, not only because the conclusion does not follow from the premise, but also because as explained above, there are other possible scenarios that equally account for the data in the premise.
This is patently false. What is doing “all” the argumentative work is exegesis of the relevant texts and extrapolating conclusions from what the texts say. It is true that the fact that there is not mention of a singular bishop, or an identification of that individual is a considerable piece of information, but that is not the substance of my argument. It is that in Clement (and Jerome) there is no distinction in ordination between presbyters and bishops. It is a matter of fact that presbyter and bishop are used interchangeably in 1 Clement, so the assumption that some of them had the power to ordain while others did not requires some sort of substantiation. The only substantiation given is Jerome, who argues precisely the opposite of what the response article claims.
Continuing the response article claims,
Finally, Brandon claims that the “tone of the letter does not indicate . . . at all” that St. Clement shows the authority of the Roman Church over the Corinthian Church. Brandon’s argument here presupposes that the only tone possible for one having authority is one of forceful compulsion and demand.
This is, once again, false. I would also ask readers to consider why I put this portion in the section on Clement, “Some people have argued that the writing of Clement shows the authority of the Roman church over the Corinthian Church.” My point is that nothing in the letter demonstrates
Nothing about being forceful or compulsory is an indication of authority and I did not make that claim. Instead, what I briefly pointed out was that Clement nowhere appeals to his own authority or the authority of the Roman Church to enforce its position. Peter and Paul are only mentioned as examples to be followed by enduring the jealousy of the ungodly, but no mention is made of the Church of Rome overseeing any other. Rome is writing, presumably because of the connection between the two churches with Paul and Prica and Aquilla, to compel its sister church to harmony and peace in the midst of turmoil. To assume anything more than that is to assume too much.
Finally, the response makes a rather curious claim that Clement is “indirectly” speaking of the monepiscopate in 44:2. The response says,
The very notion of strife for the episcopal office makes little sense if there is no non-arbitrary maximum number of persons simultaneously occupying it in the same particular Church. The unlimited number of potential presbyters in Presbyterian polity does not fit with the idea of a new presbyter being selected to succeed each one who dies. And when Presbyterian presbyters die, the remaining presbyters need only select men to replace them, which has little potential for intractable strife, since the persons having the authority in question are still present. The only strife would be among the remaining presbyters, insofar as they could not agree regarding who if anyone should replace the deceased presbyter. But St. Clement’s wording implies that he is speaking of an office that, upon the death of the person holding that office, no one with equal authority already holds, so as to make the decision regarding who to replace that person. Hence there would potentially be strife for the vacated office among those not holding that authority, unless a system of succession were established in advance.
This is substantively explained by the comment from Jay above about the interpretation of this passage, but it is also worth mentioning that this is mere speculation. First, the response wants to have it both ways. In this comment they want to point out that there is no non-arbitrary maximum number of persons simultaneously occupying the office in the same particular church, but in other places the response article wants to maintain that there could have been a situation where there were multiple bishops in a given locale. What is the non-arbitrary number of bishops with the third degree of holy orders in a given locale according to the authors of the response?
Second, there are plenty of presbyterian churches where people attempt to usurp authority from the presbyters. This becomes more pronounced when we consider what Clement is writing about: there were presbyters (plural) discharged from their office by people jealous for power. Maybe only those displaced were the bishops with only the second grade of holy orders? Or perhaps only some of the bishops with the third degree of holy orders were deposed while there were still some bishops with the third degree of holy orders retaining office?
Third, how do we know that St. Clement is writing about an office that upon the death of the person holding it is vacated? That is clearly not what Clement is writing about because these men are still alive and have been improperly deposed. Such a supposition demonstrates a fundamental misreading of Clement and is symptomatic of what I have asserted about the response article—it does not carefully engage texts, but imposes later developments into them illegitimately.
In bringing this section to a close, I’ve attempted to show that the response article has not actually offered a meaningful rebuttal. It’s factually incorrect (Jerome in particular), it works anachronistically (using Jerome), and it does not properly interpret or understand Clement (priesthood, succession). In my next post (could be weeks and weeks away), I intend on discussing Ignatius of Antioch and addressing similar issues with the response article’s interpretation of Ignatius.