The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Clement


IV. Extra-canonical 

A. 1 Clement

First, I want to address an exegetical issue I improperly glossed over regarding 1 Clement 44. The conclusions I’ve reached provide a bit more context to the discussion and reinforce my presbyterian thesis. 1 Clement 44 reads,

And our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that there would be strife over the name of the bishop’s office.

For this cause therefore, having received complete foreknowledge, they appointed the aforesaid persons, and afterwards they provided a continuance, that if these should fall asleep, other approved men should succeed to their ministration. Those therefore who were appointed by them, or afterward by other men of repute with the consent of the whole Church, and have ministered unblamably to the flock of Christ in lowliness of mind, peacefully and with all modesty, and for long time have borne a good report with all these men we consider to be unjustly thrust out from their ministration.

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 (initially I accepted this interpretation in my article) 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 BOH), then why does Clement not simply point to this rupture as the simple solution to this breach of Apostolic Succession? If a leader with supreme jurisdictional Apostolic authority existed in Rome or in Corinth, why does he not point to this individual to resolve the dispute? Instead, Clement . This observation is an important consideration given the grammatical ambiguity and supplements the grammatical observations of the third interpretation option.

In my original article, one of the main points to substantiate the idea that leadership was done by a plurality of leaders is the fact that leadership is always referred to in the plural. Clement discusses πρεσβυτεροι in 1:3; 3:3; 21:6; 44:5; 47:6; 54:2; and 57:1 and επισκοποι in 42:4-5 & 44:1. In addition to these popular designation of office he also talks about “hegoumenoi” (1 Clement 1), “achegoi” (14), and “proegoumenoi” (21). Of these leaders, I noted that Clement speaks of bishops and deacons guiding the churches by the Spirit (1 Clement 42:4). I then noted that for Clement, bishop is equivalent with ‘presbyters’ per 1 Clement 44:3-4.

In response, BOH offers the following,

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.

No appeal to this formula is inferred from Clement, it is made from Jerome writing nearly 300 years later (347-420). This is strange, first because the distinction does not come from Clement and second because Jerome undermines the point BOH is making. 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 from the presbyterate.   The response article on the other hand, argues that Jerome undergirds their distinction, 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… If, however, all bishops are presbyters, and some presbyters are bishops, then there is a semantic and conceptual 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, at least in Ephesus and Crete. 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 Jerome and undermines his argument. If not all presbyters come from the episcopate, then deacons could still maintain their superiority over the deacons. After all, deacons are mentioned in the Pastorals while presbyters are not. If all presbyters were not also bishops, or there were two orders of presbyters, some of whom were not bishops, then Jerome’s argument is completely undermined.

It is also worth noting that BOH’s response does not make sense of Dolan’s citation of Jerome as a church father who caused a number of Catholic scholars to believe that the threefold-order of ministry developed from its initial two-fold organization. BOH fails to make sense of Jerome, Clement, and developments in Catholic academic scholarship.

In an attempt to find a threefold order in Clement BOH claims,

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.

It is unclear how St. Clement is “subtly” teaching about a three-fold office. Mention of the orderliness which God desires does not mean that Clement is writing of the necessary structure of the ministry.  Eric G Jay notes,

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.

BOH does not do any exegetical work to demonstrate that Clement references a threefold order—it is merely a possibility. Justification for this reading in Clement is then drawn from much later sources.

BOH cites the Apostolic Constitutions (dating will be discussed below but it is a composite document ranging from the 3-5th centuries), Jerome (late 4th early 5th century), and the Scottish Catechism of Aberdeen (19th century). 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 ministry, but the question is whether or not it is present in Clement. BOH’s argument that there are multiple types of bishops and presbyters in Rome is ultimately dependent upon imposing later categories into Clement.

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.

Citing possibilities is not the same as showing those possibilities are equally likely.  And citing 19th century categories for substantiation of a reading of a second century text is poor historiography. St. Clement only mentions two orders, never mentions a distinction between presbyters and bishops and uses the words synonymously in his letter, as I argue. This argument is working explicitly from Clement, but there is also a supplemental argument from silence about the existence of a monarchical bishop.  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.”

BOH maintains the lexical equivalence does not mean there could not have been a distinction within the episcopate,

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.

No one has disputed the conceptual possibility of distinction between a presbyter or a bishop, the question in this section is whether or not there is reason to believe Clement knew of such a distinction. I’ve argued that there is strong reason to believe there is not, while BOH has offered ways in which it may be possible for Clement to have known of a monarchical episcopate. As Eamon Duffy’s quote in the introduction notes, one may concede that we must remain agnostic about the governance of the Church in Rome, but that is not what BOH is arguing.  They are arguing we can know, with the certainty of faith, that there *was* a bishop in Rome. Given that they have merely enumerated possibilities, I can find no reason to find their assessment of Clement preferable to my thesis, let alone for the certitude of faith.

BOH still goes on to claim,

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 the text. A vital component of my argument is that there is no discernible distinction between presbyters and bishops and that the words are used interchangeably.  I have demonstrated that Clement uses episkopos and presbuteros interchangeably but BOH has not offered a substantial lexical examination of these words or their utilization in Clement.

To be clear, I did originally point out that Clement did not make an argument for a man with Apostolic Succession to arbitrate this disagreement and I don’t believe that it “is doing all the argumentative work.” That may be a helpful piece of evidence itself, but the force of the argument is most forceful when used to supplement the grammatical ambiguity of 1 Clement 44.

Continuing BOH 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 it.

Authority does not compel authoritarian rhetoric, but I never suggested that Clement would have done so if he were a monarchical bishop. 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 Prisca and Aquilla, to compel her sister church to harmony and peace in the midst of turmoil. To assume anything more than that is to assume too much.

Finally, BOH argues that the strife in Corinth only makes sense in an episcopal succession system,

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.

There are four points of response to this statement. First, the response wants to have it both ways.  In this comment BOH argues that fighting over an office with a non-maximum occupancy does not make sense. In other places BOH wants to maintain that there could have been a situation where there were multiple bishops in a given locale. Thus, the “unlimited number of potential presbyters” having “little potential for intractable strife” applies equally to an unlimited number of potential bishops.

Second, there are plenty of presbyterian churches where people attempt to usurp authority from the presbyters. Clement is writing about presbyters (plural) discharged from their office by people jealous for power. We know that multiple leaders in the church were removed from their leadership positions “we see that you have displaced certain persons [plural]” (44:5). People were not clamoring for a monarchical episcopate, they were clamoring for positions (plural) of authority. This undermines BOH’s claim that strife makes no sense if there is no “non-arbitrary number of persons” occupying the episcopal office.

Related to the second, the third point is that BOH wants to claim that in 1 Clement 44 two distinct groups are mentioned.  One group is the bishops and a distinct group is described as presbyters:

“For our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those [accusative masculine plural] who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties. Blessed are those (nominative masculine plural) presbyters who have gone before seeing that their departure was fruitful and ripe: for they have no fear lest anyone should remove them from their appointed place.”

My interpretation posits that Clement is speaking about the office of oversight (episcopate) and then explains the idealized way to treat the men in this office (the presbyters)—let them complete their service fruitfully and to perfection without the fear of being removed from their appointed place. BOH’s proposal is unclear because they did not do significant textual work, but presumably, Clement could be talking about two distinct offices in 44:3 & 4. This is, once more, a true possibility, but BOH does not explain why this is grammatically or syntactically a preferable option. There is merely an assertion that my exegetical conclusions “[are] not evidence for Brandon’s claim.” The exegetical argument is non-existent, however, granting this distinction, Corinth must have removed bishops *and* presbyters. This also undermines BOH’s claim that strife makes no sense if there is no “non-arbitrary number of persons” occupying the episcopal office.

Fourth, St. Clement is writing about living officers being deposed. As Clement notes in 47:6, the Corinthian church was “for the sake of one or two persons making sedition against its presbyters, τους πρεσβυτερους (plural).” I should note that this is one of the multiple examples of the interchangeability of presbuteros and episkopos, contrary to what BOH argues (BOH claims the only place is 1 Clement 44:2). This statement also reinforces that the “intractable strife” in question is not concerned with episcopal or presbyterian succession, but with usurpers causing dissension and casting out properly elected leadership.

I admit that I am not sure what point BOH is making when it claims, “no one with equal authority already holds [his office when he dies].” If it was presbyters *or* multiple bishops without jurisdictional authority were deposed, there would still be multiple people occupying any singular office. That is, unless the person in question was a monarchical bishop, but there is no evidence presented that only one person was deposed and that it was a bishop with jurisdictional authority.

In summary, BOH has asserted that the possible interpretive options for interpreting Clement are all equivalent without offering an argument for this claim. I do not deny that it is possible for a monarchical episcopate to have existed even though Clement does not reference him, but I have sought to examine Clement for evidence of an episcopal bishop. This one particular letter is insufficient to make definitive conclusions regarding the existence of a monarchical bishop in Rome. We can conclude, however, that Clement does not provide positive evidence for a monarchical episcopate and the epistle provides reasons to believe that Roman ecclesiology at this time is led by a plurality of bishops. Thus, I have demonstrated that I have not violated the ILD principle, rather, I’ve demonstrated that BOH leaves this portion of my article largely unengaged.


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