In this section I will address each section in kind. In summary, BOH does not interact with the substance of my argument. Often, a straw-man is constructed.
- Brandon’s two Mistakes
BOH begins by noting that I make two mistakes. The first regards the significance of Sixtus’s name and the second is that the intentional accidents of the list is not evidence that the list is “false.” I’ll deal with the first with substance and explain my position again to address the second.
In dealing with the first accusation, there is a bit of a misunderstanding. Lampe does not say anything about the name of Sixtus in particular, he only notes that the fact that Irenaeus indicates that he was the “sixth” from the Apostles in the present tense. The way it is written may provide an indication that I was asserting that because “Sixtus” was the name of the sixth bishop, this means that the list was fabricated. Eamon Duffy does seem to intimate this notion in Sinners and Saints (p. 14), but BOH is correct to point out that the name itself does not mean anything necessarily. Instead, and related to the second claim, the most important point about Sixtus is that he is marked as the sixth in a list of 12—indicating the half-way point. As Lampe notes, the fact that this note “as sixth, Sixtus was appointed” is in the present tense is evidence that the editorial comment is a constituent part of the list, indicating that this comment is part of the source Irenaeus uses. If Sixtus is listed as the half-way point, this means that the list of Irenaeus was created with Eleutherius as the 12th bishop, dating the list no earlier than his time as a bishop. Thus, we know the dating of the list based upon the internal evidence in the list itself. BOH wants to claim, however, that a similar such list had only been added to,
In other words, the relation between six and twelve may have been essential to the emphasis intended by the person compiling the list in the time of St. Eleutherius, but it was not essential to the order between all the members of the list. And this is why St. Irenaeus’s list could have been compiled from a previously existing list of the eleven bishops from St. Linus to St. Soter, and the emphasis on the sixth and twelfth bishops is not evidence that the list is false or a “fictive construction.”
In this paragraph, BOH concedes the thrust of Lampe’s argument, but then asserts that the list could have come from earlier lists of which the numbers 6 and 12 were not constituent components. To re-state Lampe’s position (and my own):
Irenaeus is using an existing bishop list that is written in the present tense while Irenaeus’s comments are written in the imperfect. According to Lampe, Theodor Klauser, and Herbert Kemler this verbal information provides insight into the distinction between the pre-existing list and Irenaeus’s comments. The note about Sextus is in the present, indicating it is not one of Irenaeus’s comments but a part of the pre-existing list and marks the midway point of the list. The comments on Eleutherus, “now, 12th from the Apostles, holds the inheritance of the episcopate.” is likewise in the present. Lampe also points out the Apostolic number “12” is not a matter of coincidence and serves to emphasize the apostolic nature of the succession. Thus, for Lampe, the number 12 is a constituent part of the list meaning the list is not composed before the episcopate of Eleutherus.
That does not mean that Irenaeus could not be using information from other sources other than his list. The point is that working from what we know, this is the first list of monarchical bearers of tradition all the way back to the Apostles and it is dated in the late second century. Of course, I believe that an admission of this fact tilts things in favor of my thesis. Yet, if we can acknowledge that the first extant list we possess comes no earlier than the episcopate of Eleutherus, we can then begin determining which narrative provides a better answer as to why. Simply stipulating that just because we do not have a record does not mean that it could not exist, however, is not a compelling argument–at least not with a sustained argument.
2. Selective Arguments from silence
I noted that BOH responds to the accusation that their position relies on an illegitimate argument from silence by saying,
But proposing some explanation or event behind what is stated is not an argument from silence. An argument from silence uses silence to argue for the non-existence or non-occurrence of something. Of course a proposed explanation or event behind what is stated can be false or unjustified, but it is not an argument from silence. Proposing what lies behind an historical silence is not the same as arguing to the non-existence of x on the basis of silence. For this reason, because speculating about what St. Irenaeus may have depended on is not using silence to argue for the non-existence or non-occurrence of anything, it is not an argument from silence
Just a few sentences before this claim, however, BOH charged me with “repeatedly ma[king] use of arguments from silence.” I have made multiple arguments proposing what lies behind an historical silence, but nowhere is my conclusion that because no mention is made of a monarchical episcopate that it does not exist. My claims are more tempered, noting that silence favors one potential interpretation over another. And at this point, it’s worth noting my initial article was intended to argue for the presbyterian thesis; the church in Rome was organized with multiple presbyters ruling in the church. Arguments against a monarchical bishop provide a sub-text, but my arguments are primarily positive. My utilization of silence is no different than what BOH claims for itself. BOH wants to claim that because I don’t believe a monarchical bishop existed, therefore utilization of silence is different, but that is special pleading.
When Ignatius appeared to claim that the monarchical episcopate spread over the whole world, I did not argue that the silence for 70+ years showed that the argument was specious. Instead, I appealed to multiple documents and internal evidence in Ignatius. I’ve conceded that the argument may not be successful, but it is certainly not an argument from silence. My argument was specific, the church was governed by presbyter-bishops throughout the city. This was based on the biblical and Patristic data directly. Silence in some instances provided area for “proposing some explanation or event behind what is stated,” but as BOH correctly states, this is not an argument from silence.
In a qualified sense, BOH is correct that its argument is not an argument from silence, because arguments from silence rely on the absence of information in a document to assume that it did not exist. BOH is not interpreting Irenaeus in that manner. Instead, BOH is arguing that while no evidence is extant, it is possible that the list of Irenaeus is dependent on earlier, complete bishop lists of monarchical bishops. As I’ve emphasized over and over, that is possible, but BOH does not argue why this proposal is probable or more likely than other alternatives.
Nevertheless, without substantiating the possibility that Irenaeus could have used other exhaustive lists that predated his own, BOH accuses me of ignoring data because it “does not fit Brandon’s theology.”
In essence, what Brandon is doing here is simply stipulating that St. Irenaeus and St. Hegesippus are untrustworthy sources regarding the succession of bishops in Rome, because what they say does not fit Brandon’s theology. And that is both ad hoc special pleading, and unjustified.
Considering the argument that BOH has presented, it is understandable that they would reach this conclusion. The remedy, however, is for BOH to revisit what has actually been argued to see that while I may be mistaken, I’m not “stipulating Irenaeus and Hegesippus are untrustworthy.”
Moreover, it is true that we don’t know exactly how the Gnostics responded to these particular bishop lists, but Eric Jay notes,
Hegesippus was chiefly concerned to satisfy himself that sound doctrine has been taught in the churches from the apostles’ time. But since Gnostics produced lists of teacher who had, they claimed, received the secret tracing from the apostles, Hegesippus conceived the idea of countering this by compiling lists of “bishops” in the local churches which showed a succession from the apostles.
In other words, there were other bishop lists circulating from the Gnostics about secret teaching from the Apostles. The counter-argument was that there were public church officials who repudiated Gnostic doctrine in a sustained line of public ministry in every place in the world. Rome is the ultimate example because it is founded by two apostles and is the center of the empire. The truth is, however, that the “bishop lists” could actually originate with the Gnostics and
3. St. Irenaeus’s two ‘mistakes’
There does not need to be much time given to this particular issue. I simply noted that in appropriating the Patristic writers we need to acknowledge they occasionally make mistakes in matters of fact. Irenaeus clearly taught that Jesus was 50 years old (see here for a good treatment of the issue). Likewise, if read in an anachronistic sense, Irenaeus would be mistaken about Peter and Paul founding the Roman Church. Church tradition held that Peter was a bishop in Rome for 25 years and founded the church there, but this is legendary and goes beyond what Irenaeus is actually arguing. My point was that we must be careful not to go behind what we read in Irenaeus, like some of the Father’s in the Church have done.
4. Differences in succession lists
Once more BOH does not accurately represent my argument. I had argued,
At this point it will be helpful to revisit what this ambiguity tells us and what it does not. It does not mean that there were no bishops in Rome nor does it necessitate that Peter did not actually ordain Linus or Clement…The competing traditions show us that we need to interact with the Fathers knowing that there are mistakes and discrepancies
Somehow, BOH takes this statement regarding discrepancies in succession lists as “reason to doubt the truth of St. Irenaeus’s list.” The only thing I attempted to highlight, however, was that these bishop lists are subject to error and there are differences (as even noted in the case of Polyarp above). My point is that the Fathers are not immune from mistakes and we need to be aware of this fact without impugning everything the Fathers have said.
5. Testimony of St. Irenaeus’s arguments
BOH argues that Irenaeus refers to the bishops of Rome as presbyters therefore, because bishops are presbyters, mention of only presbyters does not mean a monarchical bishop is not also involved. This argument, supposedly supports the argument of BOH that there was always a monarchical bishop in Rome, but it is also possible to view this as evidence of the development of the office of the episcopate.
For example, Irenaeus states in Book III.2.2,
But, again, when we refer them to that tradition which originates from the apostles, [and] which is preserved by means of the succession of presbyters in the Churches
In Book IV.26.2 Irenaeus also comments,
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. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, [looking upon them] either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory.
One may assume that this clinches the point for a monarchical episcopate. Bishop ad presbyter are distinguished! Irenaeus’s argues, however, that presbyters and bishops together hold their succession from the apostles. This leads Eric Jay to conclude,
The need for a president of the college of presbyters have been recognized before Irenaeus’s day, certainly at Antioch and in Asia Minor, and doubtless in Rome. Ignatius saw him as the center of the church’s unity and guardian of the purity of its worship. In Rome, he was seen as the local church’s representative in relations with other churches…The title episkopos is now attached exclusively to this official guardian of true doctrine; but he is still a presbyter. Hence Irenaeus can speak both of a succession of the episcopate and of a succession of presbyters.
This eminently plausible reconstruction not only places Irenaeus in broader context, but it also integrates the best conclusions from other sections into this new development of the importance of the episcopate.
Moreover, Denis Minns explains,
Although bishops in succession from the apostles guarantee the church’s claim to authentic teaching, it does not follow that hierarchical structure looms large in Irenaeus’ definition of Christianity. He is sometimes credited with assigning an important, or even exclusive, role to bishops in the life of the church, but in fact, he has relatively little to say about bishops, and when he does use the term it is by no means unambiguously clear clear that he always thinks of a bishop as a person having sole government in a particular church…If they do their work properly, they will simply hand down what had been handed down to them. The ‘certain charism of truth’ which presbyters receive along with episcopal succession is simply the unchanging truth handed down to them. Denis Minns “Irenaeus” in The Cambridge History of Christianity: Origins to Constantine Vol 1. Eds Margaret Mitchell and Frances Young. Cambridge University Press: (2006), 269.
In fairness, BOH points out that there is no need to bifurcate established church structure with truth. This is correct. Minns is pointing out that the hierarchy is assumed to have publicly transmitted the deposit they have received. It has been publicly taught and the teachings of the Apostles is identifiable in the public teaching in churches founded by the apostles (and Rome is founded by *two,* which is one important reason Ireaneus chooses the Roman church to enumerate apostolic teaching). Minns does not want to bifurcate church structure from apostolic doctrine, but he wants to show the priority resides not in episcopal succession, but rather the widespread teaching of the apostles throughout the Roman empire.
Second, BOH argues that Irenaeus is claiming to know the practice of the Lenten fast of Roman bishops. The implication is that if Irenaeus can appeal to the practice of a bishop in Rome stretching back to c. 120, this indicates that the episcopate was at least in place at this time. If it were not the case, then Irenaeus’s argument to Victor would carry no weight because Victor would not have had a predecessor. Thus, BOH concludes,
Brandon’s claim that St. Irenaeus’s succession list is false and made up, makes no sense of the narrative between St. Irenaeus and St. Victor, because it would require the Christians in the Church at Rome to be massively deceived about their own history, so deceived that the deception could be used in an argument by an outsider to oppose what St. Victor was doing.
Once more, at no point did I claim that Irenaeus’s list was false, or even made up (I actually argued that he used a pre-existing list). The substance of the argument, however, assumes that if there were powerful leaders in the church that exerted large influence over the house churches of Rome that this means he was a monarchical bishop. As will be discussed below (Section V), however, the issue at Rome was an intramural dispute among Roman Christians (as numerous scholars have noted, the Church in Rome would have been sending molded bread/food to other congregations if they were sending the Eucharist). The fact that there were different churches operating differently and in harmony with one another in the city of Rome is the result of the fractionation of the city and is evidence that Rome was not under the jurisdiction of a monarchical bishop. Instead, the growing ecclesial community governed by the minister of external affairs had exerted latitude in extending fellowship to other Roman Christians. Irenaeus was aware of this practice and cited it.
6. False dilemmas
BOH claims that I have proposed a false dilemma. According to BOH,
The false dilemma is that either the person cares for the truth of the doctrine, or cares for the truth concerning the succession, but cannot at the same time be concerned about both. This false dilemma is a way of attacking a person’s character, but it hides the personal attack under the dilemma, by affirming that the person is truly concerned about some good thing, i.e., the truth of the doctrine.
This is a misrepresentation of my position. I never argued that because Irenaeus was focused upon the succession of apostolic doctrine that he was unconcerned for the mode of succession. I concede that Irenaeus believed that there was an official teacher at Rome who maintained that tradition of the Apostles. I had explicitly stated,
While the Protestant may not believe that the particulars of Irenaeus’s argument (that this occurred in episcopal succession) are correct, that does not mean that they reject the substance of what Irenaeus is saying.
In other words, it is disputable that the earlier members of this list would have conceived of themselves in the way that Irenaeus does, but that does not completely undermine Irenaeus’s argument. It was true that the men in question were presbyter-bishops. All of them may have been the “president” of the presbytery, though this is impossible to conclude. I am certainly willing to concede that they taught Apostolic teaching, particularly against the innovations of Marcionite and Valentian Gnostics. The only thing I’ve claimed is that in Irenaeus we witness a development in the importance of role of the “bishop.”
According to BOH the second false dilemma is that “either a list of twelve bishops that emphasizes the sixth and twelfth bishop is false, or it would not exist.” This is a further example of BOH’s creative imagination when describing my position. Just for clarification, the only thing that the analysis of the list does is substantiate that the list itself was composed in the time of Eleutherus. The number twelve does not speak to the “truthfulness” of the list, but to its age of composition. As a result of this misunderstanding BOH claims,
What is doing the work in ‘weakening’ their accounts is not any evidence or good argumentation, but only slightly veiled and entirely unjustified personal attacks on the moral character of these two saints.
This statement is the fruit of misunderstanding. Whether or not the arguments are strong is a subjective issue and I’m more than willing to consider their lack. The arguments, however, are an attempt to understand the history available to us and are *not* personal or moral attacks on anyone.
7. Evidence in St. Irenaeus’s account of the Gnostics
BOH claims that Irenaeus’s testimony regarding the Gnostics shows that the monarchical episcopate must have existed much earlier. For example, according to Tertullian, Valentinus tried to become pope at the church of Rome but was unsuccessful. BOH then states,
If there had been a plurality of presbyter-bishops with equal authority, this other man’s becoming bishop would not be cause for Valentinus to become indignant, because there would not be reason that another presbyter-bishop could not be added to their number.
Unfortunately, for BOH, the validity of Tertullian’s story is called into question by Epiphanius (Pan 42:1-2), who states that Valentinus willingly cut ties with the presbyters of Rome. Tertullian even admits that the reports about Valentinus might be a general customary revengeful reaction (“ut solent animi pro prioratu excite praseumptione ultionis accendi.”) Lampe and Einar Thomassen provide more detail on why this data from Tertullian is dubious for those interested.
Similar skepticism regarding the account of Marcion is warranted. It is possible that Marcion committed a sin with a virgin, but the historical reliability of this is very difficult to confirm. The reason to doubt this account is that contrary to what Epiphanius claims, Marcion was initially accepted in the church at Rome. Tertullian states in De Carne 2 & Contra Marcion 1.1; 4.4 that Marcion claimed that he had fellowship with the other Roman Christians. Tertullian also states that Marcion “in catholicam primo doctrinam credidisse apud ecclesiam Romanensem.” Lampe explains the best possible reconstruction based on information from Tertullian and Epiphanius,
Epiphanius (Haer 42.1 ff) preserves an old tradition. On Marcion’s own initiative he met with the ‘presbyters and teachers’ of the city in order to dispute with them concerning Luke 5:36ff. These discussions led to the separation; from then on there was no fellowship between the Marcionites and the rest of the Christians in the city. Who finally drew the line of division is not completely clear. Statements such as ‘eiectus’ and ‘relegatus’ (Tertullian, Praescr. 30) attribute the initiative for this final step to the ‘presbyters and teachers.’ Having been put under pressure by Marcion’s attempt at reform, they would not have been able to do anything else than to distance themselves from Marcion’s Christianity, which was devoid of the Old Testament.
One can even note the tenuous position of BOH when they claim that Marcion was never received into the church on the one hand and that his donation was returned to him later. To assume that Marcion was content leaving such an incredible amount of money to those disbarring him from fellowship strains credulity.
In an attempt to show the early date of monarchical episcopacy BOH argues that Marcionite churches had bishops, presbyters, and deacons. To substantiate this they appeal to the Dialogues of Adamantius, written 150 years after Marcion’s excommunication and after the episcopate was firmly established. Such an argument is not a serious historical argument. Additionally, the claim that heretics came to Rome in order to become the Roman bishop is met with enumerable historical problems (again, reference Lampe and Thomasson for more detail).
8. Which: The Petrine pattern or massive rejection of the Patristics
This entire section is a red herring. Ironically, BOH talks about a Petrine pattern, but such a pattern is not mentioned until the mid-third century. One only need to note, however, as other scholars have argued, that many of these churches may have indeed had a presbyterian polity but elected a “president” or “moderator.” BOH does not even entertain this option or how such a position could impact the accusation that my position is a “massive rejection of the Patristics.” To claim that the evolution from presbyterian polity to episcopal polity necessitates “a departure from the true faith,” is to only underscore misunderstanding. The rise of the episcopate was not a great departure from the faith—as scores of Roman Catholic historians would heartily admit.
9. Evidence in St. Irenaeus’s own history.
A sampling of the distortions and misrepresentations of BOH in this section with my commentary after each:
Brandon might object that he is not claiming that St. Irenaeus “lied,” but merely that St. Irenaeus mistakenly read the monepiscopacy back into the history of the Church at Rome. But if Brandon is claiming that St. Irenaeus had before him a list of successive sets of simultaneously serving presbyter-bishops each having equal authority, and he arbitrarily picked a succession of names from that list, and designated them as monepiscopal bishops, then Brandon is claiming that St. Irenaeus lied, even if Brandon himself is not using that term
I affirm that Irenaeus used a preexistent list composed at the time of Eleutherus—so he didn’t make the list himself. This list also most certainly contained the name of previous bearers of apostolic tradition—there is no indication that before this time there was a single bearer of tradition. Apologetic purposes required that streamlined list be composed and none of this is deceptive. It may not be absolutely accurate in the historical record (i.e. that the passing down of tradition took place through a monarchical bishop), but that does not mean that Irenaeus’s main focus, that the apostolic tradition had been publicly passed on, is not true. The fact that Irenaeus mentions the apostolic succession of presbyters reinforces this notion.
By contrast, instead of claiming that there was some secret the Apostles did not tell, and to which only the later Gnostics were privy, Brandon’s thesis implies that what the Apostles said about the proper ecclesial polity became a secret to the universal Church by the second half of the second century, such that all the Church Fathers, and the whole entire Church forgot and abandoned in less than a century what the Apostles had taught concerning proper polity
My thesis only maintains that certain structures that were latent in the original foundation of the church developed until there was a monarchical leader of the church. In some geographic regions oversight included particular structures that other areas did not. The pattern of oversight was established by the Apostles, but the manner of oversight took time to develop and was not universal.
To accuse St. Irenaeus of lying, therefore, is to accuse all the Church Fathers who address this subject of lying or perpetuating lies.
In this regard, some of the Fathers of the Church did in fact read their historical situation backwards. We know that Eusebius does this regularly. The Donation of Constantine was used by many saints to appeal to peace and unity. The writing of Psuedo-Dionysius was thought to be authentic for centuries. Was Thomas Aquinas a liar? Those are the options that BOH leaves us, but historical perspective allows for greater charity and perspective.
In short, given Brandon’s thesis we must choose between the inverse-Gnostic error, and an ad hoc thesis that at the very least makes monepiscopacy an apostolic option, and makes St. Peter and St. Paul (for he too was active in setting up the Church in Antioch) reject their previous pattern of Church of polity. That is the consequence that follows from Brandon’s treatment of St. Irenaeus.
Except that St. Paul followed the pattern of setting up presbyters in every city that exercised episkope. And there is no testimony from Peter that he established a monarchical successor in Antioch, Rome, or Jerusalem (the assertion of Jerusalem as being established by Peter is absolutely ahistorical and flies in the face of the evidence). This is anachronism. Instead of reading the canonical material and working forward, BOH reads third and fourth century sources and works back to the canonical material to claim that Peter and Paul established monarchical episcopates.
Finally, BOH states,
In short, if we want to reject the testimony of St. Irenaeus, we have to be prepared to reject the testimony of the other Church Fathers as well, and thereby embrace the ecclesial deism that implicitly underlies such a large-scale rejection of the patristics.
Ecclesial Deism is the term coined by Bryan Cross. It is an attempt to interpret Divine Providence in line with our preconceived expectations of how history must unfold. In the case of the episcopacy, if the monarchical episcopate is not an apostolic institution then it implies that Christ did not prevent the gates of Hell from prevailing against the church. This prejudices the argument severely, however, and assumes that there would not be developments (even developments guided by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church). Various eras in the history of God’s people stretching across the Old and New Testaments have seen the people of God falter or misunderstand various teachings from God.
The development of episcopacy is an example of a development in the oversight of God’s people. Some see it as a providential development that is binding on the people of God moving forward, even if it was not Apostolic itself. Still others, like myself, believe that the monarchical episcopate is not a divinely proscribed entity but neither is it a violation of biblical principles of oversight for God’s people. Claiming that such a development undermines Jesus’s promise is an indictment not of the academy’s assessment of the data, but rather Bryan’s criterion for “eccleiasl Deism.”
It is also essential for those interested in this discussion to realize that the narrative purported by BOH may appear more persuasive than it actually is because BOH does not critically interact with sources. Truth be told, while Eusebius provides What is the basis for BOH’s statements regarding St. Pothinus? Eusebius’s testimony, written in the fourth century. It is possible that Eusebius is reporting many facts about St. Pothinus, but given Eusebius’s documented anachronisms, sober-minded historians should approach this account with reservation. This does not mean dismissing the account as historical, but it means examining whether or not Pothinus was in fact the monarchical bishop of Lyon. This suspicion is not because of disregard for earlier writers, it is because Eusebius has proven unreliable on basic historical facts (See Timothy Barnes, The Date of Ignatius).
As I’ve demonstrated above, a real problem with BOH’s approach to history is that sources are being used without any concern to their veracity. This is one of the reasons that BOH believes that its narrative flows seamlessly. If BOH would allow important sources, such as Eusebius and Tertullian, to be subjected to analysis, then I believe this would allow for more fruitful discussion and comparison between competing narratives.
 Eric Jay, “From presbyter-bishops to bishops and presbyters: Christian ministry in the second century” Second Century 1 No. 3 1981, p. 151.
 Lampe, 391 fn. 17 and Einar Thomassen, “Orthodoxy and Heresy in Second-Century Rome” Harvard Theological Review Vol. 97, No. 3 (Jul., 2004), pp 241-256. Particular reference to Tertullian is given on pages 243-246.
 Lampe, 393.
 Timothy Barnes “The Date of Ignatius” Expository Times Volume 120 Number 3 (2008): Pages 119–130 argues concerning Eusebius’s reliability on dates, “It is no longer plausible to argue from the supposed inerrancy of Eusebius in chronological matters, as it was for a time fashionable to do in the middle of the twentieth century. For Eusebius makes so many serious and demonstrable chronological mistakes in his account of the second and third centuries that his dates cannot be regarded as reliable even where there is no contrary evidence. It will suffice to adduce his spectacular misdating of the martyrdom of Pionius in Smyrna, whose Passion reflects the enforcement of Decius’ order for universal sacrifice at the local level, refers back to the emperor Gordian (238–44) and carries the consular date of 250 (3.1, 9.4, 23).50 Although Eusebius included this passion in his Collection of Ancient Martyrdoms, he nevertheless misdated Pionius to the reign of Marcus Aurelius (HE 4.15.46–47) – an error of fully 100 percent that was for a period preferred to the plain testimony of the original text.”