The Paradigmatic Bishops of History- Hegesippus


IV. Bishop Lists

This section is particularly important because understanding the utilization of bishop lists demonstrates how well my thesis can explain their origin and the development of the episcopate. In this section there are a few points at which BOH helpful corrects inaccuracies of my position, but there are many places where BOH badly misrepresents my argument, and I hope to further explain myself in this section.

a. Hegesippus

BOH begins this section noting another error of mine. The Greek word διαδοχην does in fact mean succession, not teaching. I had indeed conflated the meaning of διδαχη with διαδοχην. I thank the authors of BOH for pointing this out and regret the error. Like my other error, however, I don’t believe that it materially impacts my argument, though it does detract from clarity, so I shall set out to provide a clearer explanation.

In my article I cited Quasten and Lampe who argue that what Hegesippus “succession” is focused upon is not a monarchical episcopal or apostolic succession, but rather, a succession of, as Quasten, citing Casper and Turner, states it, “tradition or preservation of the true doctrine.”

In an attempt to address this particular argument BOH states,

St. Hegesippus’s broader project was comparing doctrine across the particular Churches to discover their agreement and thereby confirm their apostolicity, not making lists of doctrinal successions. A problem for Brandon’s claim is that we have no existing record of any such doctrinal succession lists, so if silence about prior bishop lists means there were no successions of bishops, then the present non-existence of first century “doctrinal succession”  lists means that they didn’t exist either. But Brandon proposes them anyway. This is another example of selective, ad hoc use of silence.

BOH affirms that Hegesippus’s concern was to “discover [Churches] agreement and confirm their apostolicity,” but then immediately claims that this list is not about “doctrinal successions.” That is simply not the case. I cited both Lampe and Quasten as noting that a succession of monarchical bishops is not in mind. Instead, both men agree that Hegesippus set out to prove that there were bearers of tradition (ἐπισκοπεύοντος) in each city. Quasten and Lampe note there is no reason to import the categories of a monarchical bishop into Hegesippus’ statement. I then cited T.C.G. Thornton who provides rationale for why Hegesippus is the first Christian witness to this custom of identifying a succession of true doctrine: he is mimicking a similar Jewish argument.

In my original article I simply note a convergence of a series of facts. First, Hegesippus was Jewish. Second, the Jews had frequently used succession lists to demonstrate that their beliefs had been passed down through centuries (I’ve subsequently discovered that these arguments are *also* used in Greek schools of philosophy). Third Hegesippus utilized similar arguments against the Gnostics.

As I emphasized in the comments section of the article, a list of a single line of the succession of true doctrine offers a streamlined apologetic instead of appealing to the multiple bearers of tradition that would have existed in Rome. To combat Gnosticism’s claims to Apostolic doctrine, Hegesippus uses the streamlined Jewish argument he was familiar with: identify a succession of teaching to prove legitimacy.

BOH however, sees this argument as an attack on Hegesippus’s character. First they argue,

If one claims that St. Hegesippus is simply making up a line of episcopal succession for the Church in Rome, where previously there had been only groups of presbyters all having equal authority, one has to claim that St. Hegesippus is fabricating such lines for all the cities through which he has traveled, not just for Rome.

The assumption at this point is that if there was a line of episcopal leaders that this line would necessarily be monarchical. However, if there are multiple bishops in any one particular city, then one must not assume that Hegesippus is “fabricating” a list. He is simply creating a list of bearers of the apostolic tradition that existed in Rome and he could have chosen from any number of overseers to do this.

Hegesippus only identifies three bearers of this tradition in the middle of the second century. In establishing apostolicity, Hegesippus is content to list only three bishops from the middle of the second century [If one wants to submit Eusebius omitted portions of the list  I believe this raises numerous issues of textual reliability]. And, as a matter of fact, history helps reinforce the important aspect of the theory: these men were the minister of external affairs. Soter is described by Eusebius (4.23.10) as the one who had the custom of, “sending support to many communities in all cities.” Anicetus meets with foreign dignitaries (Irenaeus and Hegesippus). Eleutherus receives letters from Gaul and asks him to take care of the bearer of the letter. What significance does this have for my argument? It appears that the succession that was drawn up comes from the minister of external affairs (already visible at the time of Clement and Hermas). This would have been a logical process for Hegesippus because he was received by the minister of external affairs and the minister of external affairs, while still a presbyter (as Hermas notes), would have been well known among Christian communities.

BOH does not comprehend this argument and instead makes troubling accusations against myself and T.C.G. Thornton,

Nothing about St. Hegesippus’s proximity to Judaism entails that his commitment to truth is lacking, or that he is willing to lie about the succession of bishops of the Church at Rome or anywhere. The word “instead” in Brandon’s statement is a subtle and sophistical way of attacking St. Hegesippus’s moral character. It asserts without any substantiating evidence that although St. Hegesippus is concerned about the truth of apostolic teaching, he is not only not concerned about the truth regarding the succession of bishops, but is even willing to make up falsehoods regarding the succession of bishops, as if a person can be deeply committed to the  “Apostolic teaching” and yet be willing to lie about history.

At no point did I argue or imply that Hegesippus was lying nor did I imply that Jews were liars. The only reason that BOH would make this accusation is if they believed their interpretation of Hegesippus must be correct concerning monarchical bishops. If Hegesippus is describing a list of bearers of the apostolic tradition, however, then there is nothing wrong in attempting to explain the genesis of such a list.

BOH objects to my proposal however, saying,

Couching and juxtaposing this personal attack against St. Hegesippus directly beside a positive claim affirming his concern for and commitment to the apostolic tradition, sophistically hides the personal attack the way honey hides the bad taste of medicine. Brandon then uses his unsubstantiated attack on St. Hegesippus’s character to discredit his testimony concerning the succession of bishops, even though Brandon said above that St. Hegesippus was not talking about a succession of bishops, but only a succession of doctrine.

No personal attack against Hegesippus was made. No “sophistical” attempts were made to “hide the bad taste of medicine.” I do take partial responsibility for this miscommunication because of my mistake in defining διαδοχην, which I believe has led to the miscommunication.  I once again apologize for the confusion and hope my current statements can clarify any ambiguity.

For clarity: I don’t attempt to discredit Hegesippus at all.  I simply attempt to understand what he is saying in context, and that is that he drew up a list of succession from bearers of the Apostolic tradition. I made a comment in the comments section of my initial article which clearly lays out my position on the development of the succession list (I note that there I use the term “bishop” in quotes to talk about the list of succession, acknowledging that these men may be called bishops but not in a monarchical sense).[1]

BOH continues in assessing my argument by making four points. First, we don’t know that Hegesippus was the first apologist to use succession lists. Even if he did that does not mean that he lied. Second, Hegesippus is writing about a succession of bishops and doctrine, not one or the other. Third, the argument against Hegesippus’s reliability is based in anti-Semitism. Fourth, the use of the middle/passive (I made up myself) by Hegesippus to describe his creation of the list does not mean he could not have used other bishop lists as his sources.

By way of response:

  1. In response to the first point, there may have been others writing bishops lists around this time. The only extant example is Hegesippus. Even if Hegesippus is not the first, a similar source of bishop lists provides similar explanatory power. Moreover, at no point did I claim that Hegesippus lied.
  2. Second, my comment also conceded that Hegesippus was writing about a succession of “bishops” but I claimed that this does not mean a monarchical bishop. It is simply connected to one bearer of the tradition, even though there were any number of potential chains that may have been created. The list that made the most sense to a foreigner would have been the minister of external affairs, whom Hegesippus met.
  3. Third, this argument is as disappointing as it is absurd. Since I have not claimed Hegesippus lied, hopefully this point can be discarded.
  4. Fourth, BOH argues that there is nothing about the middle/passive that requires that Hegesippus did not use a pre-existing list. This is true—but my argument was not that the middle/passive requires that Hegesippus did not have a pre-existing list. No historian would ever suggest that the middle passive necessitated Hegesippus did not have another source. However, even Bryan conceded,

It surely suggests that he himself did not already have a list of the succession of bishops at Rome.

This would seem to be accurate.  Hegesippus does say that he is the one that composes the list, so he had not done a previous list himself. If there were other bishop lists, why did Hegesippus not use them? The answer to that question is impossible to apprehend with certainty, but to suggest that Hegesippus had access to other lists but decided to create his own is convenient since none of the other “lists” is extant. It’s possible, but other mitigating factors make scholars hesitant to accept this version of events.

To claim that Hegesippus had access to other lists but decided to make his own introduces numerous potential problems for BOH.  If there were pre-existent lists, why did Hegesippus draw up his own? It would be strange if there were in fact preexisting lists and Hegesippus created his own list. According to BOH the list would be very simple and standardized.  Did Hegesippus make his own list because there was more than one potential chain of bearers of apostolic tradition in Rome? These and other questions attend the claim that Hegesippus could have used other contemporary lists. Consequently, to suggest BOH’s narrative at least equal with mine (while, once again, entirely possible) is an imprecise criterion because it is subjective.

When I propose that Hegesippus is the “innovator” of succession lists and Irenaeus “develops” the idea of succession lists, BOH believes that I have argued that either man is “lying,” but that is not what I have argued. Under this faulty assumption, BOH proceeds to claim that either all the Christians of Rome were ignorant of the history of the church, Hegesippus’s sources lied about the list, or Hegesippus lied about the reports from those in the church in Rome. None of these options is entailed by my argument and does not require response. What I do argue is that all of the data considered shows that Hegesippus does not speak about a monarchical bishop in his writings.

I noted that two other indications of this are that the list of Hegesippus is not a complete list stretching back to the Apostolic period, but a list of current successors. I also note the important fact (and it is a fact) that Hegesippus does not mention a monarchical bishop. He is only speaking of a succession of apostolic teaching. BOH responds that none of this means that there was not a monarchical bishop. Just because the list was incomplete does not mean Hegesippus did not compose a full list.  BOH thus concludes,

But the data does not support avoiding or denying that conclusion, just as my listing only the U. S. Presidents who served since I was born does not support avoiding or denying the conclusion that the line of U. S. Presidents extends back to George Washington. In short, nothing here in any way discredits the veracity of St. Hegesippus’s list.

The problem with this analogy is that is begs the question, assuming the Hegesippus was writing about a list of monarchical bishops. If Hegesippus is writing about a list of bearers of tradition, among whom there were multiple chains, then Hegesippus is not writing about a list of monarchical bishops. If this were true, it could also explain why Hegesippus does not list all of the various bearers of apostolic tradition and picks the most prominent bishops (the minister of external affairs) that were publicly known and growing in power and exposure. It is possible, as Lightfoot claims, that the list of Hegesippus could be extant in St. Epiphanius of Salamis (AD 310 – 403), but this claim has been met with large-scale skepticism because of the lacuna in explaining Eusebius’s omission in addition to the general flow of the text.

In conclusion, BOH mischaracterizes the argument as an attempt to “discredit the veracity of St. Hegesippus’s list,” but it is simply an attempt to interpret the list. Hegesippus writes about bearers of apostolic tradition, of which there were multiple strands in the city of Rome. Lampe explains,

A chain of monarchical guardians of tradition…[2] did not occur to him in those days of his visit to Rome.  The reason is simple. In those days there did not as yet exist a chain of monarchical bearers of tradition.  Before the middle of the second century in Rome, at no time did one single prominent person pass on the tradition; this was done by a plurality of presbyters [more on this below with Irenaeus and his mention of Apostolic tradition passed on by the presbyters]…one would have had to present a ‘bundle’ of chains before the middle of the second century in order correctly to portray the historical plurality of presbyters as Roman bearers of tradition. But this type of unpopular complex representation was badly suited for a handy model of history…The names that were woven into the construction were certainly not freely invented but were borrowed from the tradition of the city of Rome.

Thus, the argument, for apologetic argument was “streamlined” in a historicizing way. It was true that these men were part of the history of Rome as receiving the apostolic tradition—they simply were not monarchical bearers of that tradition. Hegesippus did not conceive of them in this way either, but the apologetic argument in conjunction with broader social concerns provided fertile soil for the emergence of the monarchical episcopate. BOH left this thesis completely unexplored.

[1] http://www.calledtocommunion.com/2014/03/the-quest-for-the-historical-church-a-protestant-assessment/#comment-79596

[2]In this appositional phrase, Lampe says, “…as Hegesippus happily presents them for the time after his visit to Rome in the succession of Anicetus–Soter–Eluetherus…” This is ambiguous to Lampe’s meaning because it seems to be inconsistent with what he has claimed earlier on page 404, “it by no means concerned [Hegesippus] to prove a succession of monarchical bishops from the apostles until the present. What he pictured in his mind were chains of bearers of correct belief, and he was of the opinion that he could recognize such a chain also in Rome. More than this is not in the text.” In various reviews of Lampe’s book I’ve come across reviewers noting a few corrections on the translation from German and typical typographical errors. I am uncertain if the phrase on page 405 ought to read “as *Irenaeus* happily presents them…” If Lampe is advocating that Hegesippus did not originally believe they were monarchical bearers of tradition but came to see them as such at the time of composition, I demur from his opinion and join C.H. Turner and Erich Caspar I’ve articulated here.

UPDATE to [2]: After corresponding with Lampe, he has explained that perhaps the distinction is lost in translation. For Lampe, he does not believe that Hegesippus saw his succession list as monarchical bishops in the later sense of the term, but he does believe that they are presented as monarchical (or, Lampe proposed an alternative”one dominant teacher”) bearers of tradition. As Lampe indicates in his book, he is skeptical this is historically accurate, but it is not quite the monarchical episcopate. Instead, it is a seminal movement in that direction with these teachers being the representatives of the apostolic teaching.


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