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.


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